On what would prove to be the last full day of his life, Robert Francis Kennedy saw his son drowning in the California surf. It was June 4, 1968, and the windswept Pacific Ocean was chilly, the summer sky gray. Kennedy and his family were spending primary day here on the coast with a friend, Hollywood director John Frankenheimer. By night-fall (or early morning in the pre-Internet age), America would probably know whether Kennedy or Hubert Humprhey would be the Democratic nominee in the upcoming presidential election. Richard Nixon would be the Republican challenger in a few months.
Then, electoral votes no longer mattered. Breathing did.
According to numerous accounts, a crashing breaker knocked Kennedy’s 12-year-old boy, David, off his feet and a severe undertow yanked him down, trapping him beneath the water-line. Robert Kennedy, who’d been swiming with his kids, dove under the waves to save his child. Both were scuffed up during the rescue, RFK bearing a scar and bruise close to where he parted his hair afterwards. Supposedly, David promised his father he’d return the favor when he had his chance. Frankenheimer, meanwhile, applied theatrical makeup to his guest’s forehead, because Kennedy would be speaking that night in the crowded ballroom of Mid-Wilshire’s Ambassador Hotel. He couldn’t go on stage looking as though he’d already taken a hard object off the noggin.
So why am I dredging up what is now forty-three-year-old history? Because of the caldendar, actually.
This spring, I posted two candid photographs that my older brother, Paul, snapped of RFK near the Biltmore Hotel downtown. Paul then was a a 21-year-old USC senior and part-time county statistician. Robert Kennedy, 42, was a former U.S. Senator from New York, ex-U.S. Attorney General in the cabinet of his assassinated older brother, John Kennedy, and, now, leading man of the Kennedy political royalty. He was also without Secret Service protection, which, prior to his murder in the Ambassador Hotel kitchen just after midnight on June 5, was only given to presidents and not candidates.
When the photos fanned around the web, some disputed my brother’s belief that he took them on June 4, Kennedy’s last day. One former Kennedy confidante, former labor leader Paul Schrade, insisted the photos could not have been taken on that date because everybody knows RFK was in Malibu relaxing before heading off to his fateful encounter at the Ambassador. The timing issue of an amateur shutterbug’s intersection with history four decades ago was enough of an attention-getter that an L.A. Times blogger tried pinpointing it by comparing RFK’s tie in the car where Paul saw him and other pictures of RFK that day. Nothing conclusive stood out. What came across was RFK was in the backseat of a sedan, fist-pumping well-wishers with some media watching, on an excursion into downtown with aides no one can accurately identify.
Now, examine the photographs carefully. Zoom in on them, espeically this closer shot . Get a magnifying glass out. When you do, you’ll see the narrow, mishapen, maybe inch-long mark that RFK had evidently just sustained from rescuing his son against the ocean’s hard bottom. I have searched through pre-June pictures of him and never saw the blemish before. If that scar was fresh, that means my brother’s photographs really were taken when he believed they were: hours before Sirhan Sirhan assassinated the man who might’ve ended Vietnam, healed the nation’s cultural wounds and avoided Watergate.
The credit for connecting RFK’s forehead scar with the date of the mystery photos goes not to me, or Kennedy historians or anyone in his inner circle or public eye. The observation and conclusion goes to a music publisher named Dave Loughlin from North Carolina. A longtime Kennedy believer and political-watcher, he found the shots on the web and did some sleuthing. To him I say “bravo.” If there are others with thoughts and comments, please contact me. I’m so gratified that the man from North Carolina took the time to put two and two together and contacted me. It equalled the scar, a time stamp if you will, from June 4, 1968.
Life, not unexpectedly, sunk for David after that day at the beach.
” … At just after Midnight on June 5, David watched on TV as his father claimed victory in the California presidential primary election, then the 12-year-old listened in horror as the same broadcast reported the Senator’s assassination moments later. The event left an emotional scar on David. He began recreational drug use shortly thereafter. David tried to combat his addictions many times. He completed a month-long stint at St. Mary’s Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Minneapolis just before Easter 1984. He flew down to Palm Beach, Florida on April 19, 1984 for Easter, where several members of the Kennedy family had gathered. David checked into room 107 of the Brazilian Court hotel and spent the next few days partying. At the insistence of concerned family members, staff went to check on his welfare and found David dead on the floor of his suite from an overdose of cocaine, Demerol and Mellaril on April 25, 1984. David Kennedy was interred in the family plot at Holyhood Cemetery, in Brookline, Massachusetts.”
For posterity, here’s RFK at the Ambassador before darkness fell.