Forty-five years ago: A look back to 1968

June 5, 2013

Senator Robert F. Kennedy remains one of only two U.S. Senators to be assassinated in office. The other is Huey Long.

It’s June 4th, 1968. Americans are hearing the melodic sound of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel as the New York City duo sing their current #1 single, “Mrs. Robinson”, from the nation’s hottest movie, The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft. Those not listening to 45 RPM records or AM radio may be watching television. The Dick Cavett Show features a decent lineup tonight with singer-actress Tammy Grimes, comedian Dick Gregory, singer Kenny Rankin and political socialite Marietta Tree. However, if you live anywhere in California, from San Francisco to the San Fernando Valley, you’re watching local news where you’re seeing the acceptance speech of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who has just won the state’s Democratic Presidential Primary held earlier today.

The media has mentioned, in reference to Kennedy’s bid for The White House, a return to the era known as “Camelot”, the 1,000 days served by RFK’s brother, Jack, as President of the United States, before an assassin’s bullet ended his life on a sun-splashed Friday in Dallas. America has, at times, seemed at a loss to define itself since that fateful day in November 1963, and 1968 was proving to be a topsy-turvy year. The Tet Offensive, the Orangeburg Massacre, the My Lai Massacre, and the Assassination of civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are just a few of the headlines that have filled nightly newscasts in the first five months of the year. President Lyndon Johnson has said he will not seek re-election. Now, Bobby Kennedy is attempting to bring back some of the magic from the early days of his brother’s presidency. The younger Kennedy is promising an end to Vietnam, real progress on civil rights, a tough stance on crime, and peace and harmony in America once more. The victory tonight in California indicates voters seem to be buying his message and falling under the spell of Kennedy’s northeastern charm. Can he deliver on his promises?

We’ll never know. It’s now after midnight on June 5. Following Kennedy’s acceptance speech at the Ambassodor Hotel in Los Angeles, he is shot as he walks through the hotel’s pantry area, the victim, like his brother five years earlier, of a crazed man lacking self-confidence, who wanted to leave his mark. That man, a 24 year-old Palestinian/Jordanian immigrant named Sirhan Sirhan, is still serving time for killing Kennedy that June night in 1968, exactly 45 years ago today. Kennedy would die from his injuries the next day, and the hopes of a Kennedy ever again residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue were likely extinguished forever.

We will never know what might’ve been, but with the passage of time, we now know what was. The Republicans, at their Miami Beach convention in August, will nominate Richard M. Nixon for the Presidency. Following the riots at the Chicago site of the Democratic convention late in the month, Nixon will be elected, and the seeds of Watergate will be planted, but that full bloom is still six long years in the future. The Tet Offensive will come to an end in September in South Vietnam, and President Johnson will send 24,000 troops back to the nation for involuntary duty the next month before ordering a cease fire of North Vietnam on November 1. NASA will launch Apollo 7 in October. Elvis Presley will return to live performances in December and the so-called Zodiac Killer will begin his reign of terror in the remote lover’s lanes of the San Francisco Bay Area. And, a little-known Iraqi named Saddam Hussein, in July, becomes Vice Chairman of the Revolutionary Council in Iraq after a coup d’état. It all happened in 1968, a year which shaped modern America like no other before it, and now lies, simmering, 45 years in the past.

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