It was late the night of June 5,1968 and the teletype machines in the Newark, NJ bureau of United Press International bureau flashed the news: Presidential candidate Robert F, Kennedy had been shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles just after being declared winner of the California Democratic presidential primary.
I was leading UPI's New Jersey election coverage that night because the Garden State also had a primary election, and Gov. Richard J. Hughes was reportedly under consideration by Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey to be his running mate, should Humphrey win the nomination later that summer in Chicago.
Ultimately, Sirhan Sirhan was arrested for Kennedy's murder, convicted and is now serving a life sentence in prison. But there have been questions about whether Sirhan actually fired the fatal shot, which came from behind the senator while Sirhan was standing in front. Sirhan admitted killing Kennedy, but also testified that he had no memory of the incident.
So RFK's son, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., now an environmental lawyer, went to visit Sirhan at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, a California state prison complex near San Diego. When it was over, Kennedy agreed with those who believe there was a second gunman, and that it was not Sirhan who killed his father. This Washington Post article has more details.
For me, like most Americans, RFK's assassination was a terrible blow, coming only five years after his brother, President John F. Kennedy, was murdered in Dallas and only three months after Rev. Martin Luther King was gunned down in Memphis, TN. It was that incident that made me decide to join UPI.
So five years later, at age 25, I was the Trenton, NJ bureau chief for the wire service. I had been with King at a news conference only a week before his death. Now, it was my job to manage normal New Jersey election night news coverage and to lead coverage of the impact of the Kennedy assassination on state politics.
I was expected to do that, putting aside my own emotions and concerns about what all of this would mean to our country. This was the time of the Vietnam War and of Richard M. Nixon. Kennedy's assassination meant that Humphrey would have an easier path to the Democratic presidential nomination, and that could mean a vice presidential candidacy for Gov. Hughes.
Two months later I helped to cover the Democratic convention in Chicago, was teargassed by Chicago police who were trying to control anti-war demonstrators, and ultimately reported that Gov. Hughes would not be Humphrey's vice presidential nominee -- that it would be Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, instead.
Today's Post article about RFK, Jr. questioning who actually murdered his father brought all of these memories flooding back. I did not really realize then that I was reporting on one of the most momentous and important periods in our nation's history.