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RFK Assassination: Aide Recalls Tragedy Repeated

The night Robert F. Kennedy virtually clinched the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination, the scene in his suite at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles was like a "madhouse," one of his closest friends remembers.

On June 4, 1968, Sen. Kennedy had just won the key California primary and looked forward to the Democratic National Convention.

"People were celebrating, cheering each report that came over the television," says Ted Sorensen. "And finally, he was summoned to go down to the ballroom and salute and thank the crowd of his supporters and workers. And I stayed behind in his hotel room, watching on television."

"I saw him speak, thank his supporters, conclude with the stirring words, 'Now on to Chicago,' which was to be the site of the convention that year, continued watching as the camera followed him off the platform only to hear the shots ring out, the commentators saying that Sen. Kennedy has been shot. And there he was lying on the floor.

"I could not believe that what I had gone through five years earlier was happening again," Sorensen tells Renee Montagne, referring to John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Robert Kennedy was shot just after midnight June 5, 1968, and died early the next morning.

Grief and Pride

In 1963, Sorensen was a top aide to John F. Kennedy, when the president was killed in Dallas.

"Bobby came into my office wearing dark glasses because his eyes had been filled with tears and he was a proud man. He simply stood there for a while. We looked at each other; each knew that the other had suffered a terrible loss. We commiserated a little bit and then he went on to other duties ..."

Sorensen and Robert Kennedy were not always close. The aide came to know the younger Kennedy in 1953, "not altogether favorably, to be frank about it, because we were far apart ideologically and in background," he says.

Competing for Attention

Robert Kennedy was counselor to the fiery conservative Sen. Joseph McCarthy, when Sorensen worked for the liberal Sen. John Kennedy. But Sorensen remembers it would be years before he and Robert Kennedy became friendly.

In his new memoir, Counselor, Sorensen writes that by the early 1960s, he and Robert Kennedy vied for the attention of the president, somewhat like siblings.

"We both loved John F. Kennedy and were both determined to serve him," Sorensen says. "[Robert Kennedy] was, as attorney general of the United States in 1961 and I as special counsel to the president, both had the edge of jurisdiction on legal problems. So in that sense there was competition, but in a much broader sense, whatever ill will or suspicion there may have been years earlier, we became fast friends."

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