When Robert F. Kennedy announced he was going to run for President and why, I knew what I had to
do. Although 15, I knew the man was sincere in trying to guarantee equal rights for all Americans and
wanted to stop the Vietnam War. Throughout April and May of 1968, I would take a bus to the RFK For
President Headquarters in San Diego a few times a week after school and all weekend long. I
volunteered and did work that matched what any adult was doing. Bobby made a few trips to San Diego
to campaign. One of these was on a weekend where he went in a motorcade throughout the city. That
Monday, I came home for lunch from school. My mother said, "Eliot, the Kennedy campaign called and
they want you to call them right back." I called them. The lady on the phone said, "Mr. Kennedy is
leaving Lindbergh field this afternoon. We thought it would be nice to have a group of you young people
that have worked so hard to see him off." It would be about an hour later. She further explained that we
would be in a terminal viewing area. That we would not be anywhere near RFK, but we would be able to
see him board his private plane from a distance. She asked that we wear all of our hats, banners,
buttons, posters, etc. because the press would be there. Excited by this opportunity, I returned to school
and went to the principal's secretary at Coronado High School. I thought they would be delighted that a
student was participating in the election process and had this opportunity. When I told her about it she
said one thing. "Mr. Kennedy does not need you. You need to get to class right now" in an extremely
mean tone. I walked away and the second I was out of her sight, I ran to the bus stop and went to
Lindbergh Field. There in the designated terminal, all dressed up in their finest RFK campaign
accessories was about 30 young people from all over San Diego who had been coming to volunteer as
well. About 30 minutes later, we could see a group of men exit a building from far away and board the
small plane, but we could see well enough that RFK was not among them. About 15 minutes later Bobby
exited the building and was walking towards the plane out on the tarmac. Why I decided to do this--I still
don't know for sure. But I am so glad to this day that I did. I quickly scanned the situation. The only thing
between me and RFK was some yellow tape that was placed around the exit. I went over or under it, out
the door and I ran faster than I had ever done so in my life. Bobby had reached the top of the portable
stairs to the plane when he heard a young fellow screaming "Bobby, Bobby, Bobby!" He turned around
and saw a 15-year old boy clearly out of breath and wearing all his campaign materials. He came down
the stairs with the biggest smile ever, took my hand and got right into my face. No words were spoken,
but to have Bobby Kennedy smiling gleefully, shaking my hand and in my face for about 15 seconds was
a memory of a lifetime. He turned back around, went back up the stairs and into the plane. Mission now
accomplished, I walked slowly back to the terminal area where this group of 30 other young people had
watched this whole scenario. Do you remember the final scene in "The Graduate" where having just
gotten on a city bus, the entire passenger crowd turned around and were staring at Ben and Elaine? As
I entered the terminal door, the 30 or so were standing there staring speechless when finally a girl said,
"Do you know what you just did?" I responded, "Yes. I just met Bobby Kennedy." Was a picture taken by
some press photographer from that terminal? I will never know. But I had an artist recreate the moment
exactly from pictures of what we both looked like in 1968. I will never forget those blue eyes.
I know exactly where I was on June 5, 1968 just after midnight. How could I ever forget?
As a 15-year-old with a quite sophisticated sense of politics, I had just celebrated with hundreds of other
people at the Robert F. Kennedy for President headquarters in downtown San Diego, California.
We had watched RFK on TV as he had just won the California primary and had given his famous victory
speech, "And now on to Chicago and let's win there!"
We piled into a car "Let's go up to Los Angeles and celebrate at the Ambassador Hotel!,"
"I don't know, we have school tomorrow." "What do you want to do?" echoed back and forth in the car, we
turned on the radio to further savor the moment...
then a hush fell throughout the car...
"NBC News is reporting that shots rang out just after Senator Kennedy declared his victory in
California and have seriously injured him and others...stay tuned for further details..."
We were all speechless and headed back home...where we were greeted by alarmed parents with TVs
blaring after midnight: "Do you know what has happened???" "Yes." "Are you alright?"
"Yes." ...but not really...nobody was...and all American's lives would be changed and affected forever.
You see, from the minute in March, Robert "Bobby" F. Kennedy declared he would be a
candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination challenging President Lyndon "LBJ" Johnson, (who
would drop out of the race)
I volunteered after school daily and all weekends at his San Diego headquarters.
I worked with the greatest enthusiasm for this unique man. Why?
He loved all Americans equally and wanted to see all of them given the same rights--whether they were
black, brown, red, yellow or any shade in-between. And the people who were not being treated equally in
could sense his genuine desires and commitment and responded accordingly. Crowds cheered him on
like a rock star wherever he went.
He further wanted to stop the Vietnam War. America's 1960's quagmire that tore this country apart.
He was winning most of the primaries and polls indicated that he would beat any Republican in the fall
Had he gone on to become President of the United States, the war would have ended early sparing
of families the grief that they would experience in the years to come, equal rights programs would have
been accelerated, bringing this country closer together instead of further apart as it would move from
Working for Bobby Kennedy as a 15-year old had its advantages and disadvantages.
Being part of an actual political campaign was exciting and very rewarding. On the other hand, our country
was still full of bigots and racists.
And many stupid teenagers who I attended Coronado High School with had no sense of politics other
than what they would repeat from mom and dad and were quite open about saying those things out loud
at school in front of me:
"Kennedy is a NWORD-Lover" "Only the Spics and Jews will vote for Kennedy."
"What are you wasting your time working for that Communist for?"
Back then you never questioned what a teacher said or state an opposing opinion as a challenge. When
a teacher, commenting on the upcoming primary said, “Kennedy can't win. He's too much in favor of the
black man.” This was generally accepted as an astute observation at this particular school.
And how can I ever forget 2 days after his assassination receiving a gift in the mail. I wasn't expecting
anything. In a large envelope was a copy of a recent Saturday Evening Post magazine with RFK on the
cover and the story “How Bobby Kennedy Plans To Win It.” Somebody actually made the effort to do all
that. A school filled with Racist, Antisemitic Bigots.
And when they kept calling me about a class reunion a few years ago and I would not return their calls,
they could not understand. “Why won't you call us back?”
After all these years, I wonder if those close-minded, racist, bigoted,
hateful, prejudiced people have ever changed.