To the Point for 6/01/2006


THE LOSS OF INNOCENCE takes on different aspects for different people. For me, it was a time when I realized the scope of the world around me, and that the world I was discovering was not always a kind and gentle place.

For me, that loss of innocence came nearly 40 years ago this week. Although I was just a boy at the time, there is a specific point in time that changed my view of the world forever.

On June 5th, 1968, Robert Kennedy had just declared victory in the Democratic presidential primary in California. He had just spoken to supporters and was leaving the hotel through a back entrance when he was shot by an assassin. I remember the photos of him lying helpless on the floor as people rushed around, not know what to do. Doctors in the audience that night were frantically called to help, but it was too late.

I remember that day because my family had a “brush with greatness” with Robert Kennedy. Earlier that week, on his way to the California primary, Robert Kennedy stopped off for a tour of the Wayne School Bus factory in Richmond, Indiana. My father, Paul Lanman, gave him that tour.

My dad still has official photos that were taken that day, as he took the Senator around the plant, explaining the different production aspects to him. One of Robert Kennedy’s bodyguards was Rosie Grier, a former member of the NFL Los Angeles Rams. He had a teammate on the famed “Fearsome Foursome” named Lamar Lundy — who attended Richmond High School a few years ahead of my father.

It was through that lens that I viewed Robert Kennedy. He was a man that my dad had met, and I was overwhelmed at the possibility that he could be the President of the United States.

Now, he was dying on the kitchen floor of the Ambassador Hotel.

Being a young child of seven at the time, I didn’t quite realize just how big or how cruel our country could be, and I remember being filled with fear that maybe the same fate could fall on people that I knew, too.

Three days later, on June 8th, 1968, James Earl Ray was arrested for the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who had been shot while standing on a hotel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee in April.

In a three day span, a Presidential candidate had been killed in a senseless act of violence; and a man was going to face the justice system for the murder of a man who advocated civil change through non-violent means.

History will show that Sirhan Sirhan, a man born in Jerusalem (how ironic), is serving a life sentence for the shooting of Robert Kennedy. There are of course conspiracy theories that say that Sirhan was a brain-washed victim who was used as a diversion while others killed Kennedy. I don’t know about all of those things, other than to understand that all incidents with public officials come with hundreds of conspiracy theories.

All I know is that I grew up a lot during those days in June now 38 years ago. I must admit that I often think about a country that Robert Kennedy would have led; and I think about his most famous quotes:

There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why… I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?

This is not a political column, because I’m sure that there are readers out there who shiver at the thought of a Robert Kennedy presidency. Rather, this is a discourse on the memories of a young boy who was raised to believe that all things were possible.

But a series of shots 38 years ago changed those feelings forever.