49 years after RFK's assassination, San Jose man reflects on iconic image
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KTVU) - 49 years have passed since the assassination and death of Robert F. Kennedy. It's an anniversary a San Jose man remembers every year because he was there when it happened and was captured in an iconic image.
But after decades of guilt and an unlikely friendship, he was finally able to forgive himself.
Every year around June 5, Juan Romero visits a Robert Kennedy memorial at St. James Park in Downtown San Jose where the presidential candidate gave a speech a week before he was shot in 1968.
At this memorial, Romero wipes clean a plaque that bears the name of a man who once lay dying in his arms.
Even though the assassination of Senator Kennedy was nearly half a century ago, the memory and pain of that American tragedy for the San Jose grandfather is still very personally present.
"It doesn't get any easier every year," said Romero.
Romero is still brought to tears remembering June 5, 1968.
Senator Kennedy had just won California's Presidential Primary and was leaving through a Los Angeles hotel kitchen shaking hands along the way.
Just after shaking Romero's hand, shots rang out.
"I couldn't understand why he was laying there and no one was trying to help him," Romero recalled. "I tried to put my hand between his head and the concrete to make it a little more comfortable. As soon as I put my hand there I felt blood, warm blood coming out."
As captured in a black-and-white photograph, Romero, who was a busboy at the Ambassador Hotel, knelt to help Bobby Kennedy not realizing the Presidential candidate had been shot in the head.
"Then I realized how I could feel the blood streaming through my fingers. I knew it was a lot more serious," said Romero. "He was just laying. He wouldn't look at me. I would say 'Are you okay? Can you get up?' and all I could see was just one eye blinking and then a leg was shaking."
Juan Romero was 17-years-old at the time. This June, he turns 67.
For almost five decades, he questioned if he could have done more that day after receiving letters from strangers.
"I was told I could have sacrificed myself for him. The other one is that that I set him up," said Romero.
Today Romero lives in San Jose and works in construction. He only recently stepped out of the shadow of guilt thanks to an unlikely friendship with a woman in Germany he met through Facebook.
Three years ago, his German friend gave him a Robert Kennedy autographed paper.
"I never had it appraised. I've never had it [authenticated] because I don't care. She believes it's real and that's all that matters," said Romero.
But she also gave him so much more.
Only after talking with her did he release decades of blame and realize he was not responsible for what happened.
"It just felt like a big relief off my shoulders that I didn't have to feel guilt anymore," said Romero.
Until recently, Romero never wanted to look at the iconic picture of him and a wounded Senator Kennedy.
"Now that I can look at it and see it, I can see what people are looking at. I can see the sadness--the sacrifice that he made," said Romero.
Juan Romero says now he has a sense of purpose to keep that sacrifice and the memory of Robert Kennedy alive, saying it makes his past more tolerable.