Robert F. Kennedy 

The Memory Lives on 

By Vic Kohring, June 5, 2018

It's been 50 years since U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy's assassination, at a time when the nation was reeling from Martin Luther King's shooting two months earlier. It's hard to fathom a half-century has passed since the June 5, 1968 tragedy. 

I've always been inspired by RFK and his speeches. My favorite was on the evening of King's death that April, considered his greatest and most eloquent, which helped calm racial divisions at a very tense time in history. He closed with a quote from Aeschylus, "To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world," asking that we dedicate ourselves to this ideal. 

In August 2005, I traveled to Long Beach, California as a legislator, partly to explore Kennedy's history. As chairman of the Oil & Gas Committee, I was invited to ride on an oil tanker from Valdez to California to observe first-hand the transport of North Slope crude. After seven days on the Pacific and arriving in Long Beach, I rented a car and decided to check out the Ambassador Hotel in nearby Los Angeles, the site of the RFK catastrophe 37 years before. 

I searched for the old hotel for hours until learning it was torn down a couple weeks earlier. I missed seeing the historic place by days as dozers and wrecking balls had already demolished the Ambassador. It was a huge disappointment to miss out on seeing the iconic building in person and to lose such an important part of history. So I instead changed my focus on locating the grounds of the hotel, even if only a vacant lot.  

It was my 47th birthday, on August 2, 2005. It was also the day former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond died suddenly, so I remember it well. After driving around in frustration for several hours and coming up empty, I parked my car in the vicinity of the hotel grounds on Wilshire Boulevard late in the evening. It was dark and eery as I scoured the neighborhood on foot around 1:00 am. 

I risked my safety after being warned the area was gang-ridden. It had fallen into a bad state over three decades and by then was an older, run-down part of town. I felt scared but was on a mission to find the famous hotel site where one of my life's hero's met his demise. Determined, I pressed on. Finally, there it was in front of me. The spot where the building once rose. I stood in prayerful silence for several minutes before walking back to my car.

Had RFK lived, he would be 92 today. He was only 42 when gunned down by a lunatic who's still alive in a California state prison. What a waste and so unfair. RFK was robbed of life and our country robbed of potentially great leadership, while a despicable criminal continues to live. 

I believe RFK would have been elected president in 1968 instead of Richard Nixon. At the time, emotions and feelings of sympathy were still strong over his brother's killing 4-1/2 years earlier in Dallas, so the Kennedy name was a huge asset. Instead of Nixon squeaking by a weak Democrat nominee in Hubert Humphrey that fall, a landslide loss to Kennedy was probable. 

RFK's potential to be a strong leader was superior to Nixon's. He and his brother John F. Kennedy were considered conservative Democrats by today's standards, recognizing that tax cuts stimulate economic growth. And look at Nixon's disastrous domestic record while president. He presided over a major expansion of government by creating the onerous EPA that has since proven an albatross around the economy's neck. And let's not forget Nixon's socialist "wage and price controls" as a way to micromanage the economy, a policy communist leaders employ, not capitalists.  

Kennedy also vigorously opposed the Vietnam war and would have probably withdrawn our troops within a couple years instead of allowing the conflict to drag on and finally drawing to a close in 1975. Pulling out early would have saved thousands of servicemen lives (Nixon failed on his promise to pull us out early). And there would have been no Watergate. Very much a different world. 

RFK was a liberal, but a compassionate man with a personal grace and genuine concern for the plight of the less fortunate. He was also a devoted family man who adored his wife and children and who possessed an unwavering faith in God and the power of prayer as a Roman Catholic. Kennedy had a huge heart, transitioning from a ruthless, stone-cold member of his brother's administration as attorney general into a humanitarian, a unifier of people and a champion of justice and equality. 

Robert F. Kennedy may be long gone, but his memory and legacy live on.