Thursday, 31 May 2018 16:58

50 Years Later: Local Man Shot with RFK Reflects

Robert Kennedy on the campaign trail in San Francisco, 1968. Robert Kennedy on the campaign trail in San Francisco, 1968.

Paul Schrade stood atop the platform in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel. A few feet away, Bobby Kennedy delivered his speech.

A few hours earlier, the polls closed on the California Democratic presidential primary and the feeling of victory hung in the air. As Kennedy made his way off the stage to meet with the press, the ballroom filled with the exuberant chanting of his joy-filled supporters: RFK. RFK. RFK.

“As he walked off into the pantry area, heading for a press conference, Bobby said: ‘I want you with me,’” Schrade recalls. Once inside the hotel kitchen pantry area, he watched Kennedy extend his hand to greet workers. “Then I got hit,” Schrade says. “I started shaking violently. I didn’t even know that I’d been shot.”

Schrade was shot in the head and taken to Los Angeles’ Kaiser Hospital. Just over 24 hours later, at 1:44 a.m. on June 6, 1968, Kennedy was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital. After recovering from his injuries Shrade moved out of Los Angeles and into the desert. He set aside the memories of that tragic night for a long time.

Paul Schrade grew up in Saratoga Springs where as a young man he worked nights and weekends at the family floral business, the descendant of which maintains the Schrade name and today stands on West Avenue as the Posie Peddler. “Slave labor,” he says with a laugh. He had a busy scholastic career that included writing for the school newspaper, Oratoga, and being involved in the speech club and photo club, among other organizations. He graduated from Saratoga Springs High School in 1942 and studied at Yale College, later becoming a union organizer and getting involved in the nation’s political scene.

During John F. Kennedy’s election campaign in 1960, Schrade struck up a friendship with J.F.K.’s younger brother, Bobby. “We had a lot of great experiences together,” he says.

The year 1968 was one of conflict in America. “Bob was facing a lot of crises,” explains Schrade. “The anti-war movement, rebellion on campuses, rebellion in the black community; Dr. King had been shot and killed. The country was in horrible shape at the point and Bob provided some hope during this terrible time.”

Vice President Hubert Humphrey would later emerge from a turbulent Democratic National Convention in Chicago to represent his party. Republican candidate Richard Nixon would win the presidency in the general election.

Asked whether he can imagine how the world might be different had Kennedy survived and been elected president, Schrade says, “well he was against the war in Vietnam. He would have ended the war.” One person’s life making such a big difference. “One small bullet made a difference,” he replied.  

Sirhan Sirhan was convicted in 1969 of the assassination of Kennedy and sentenced to death in the gas chamber. The sentence was commuted three years later, when California abolished the death penalty. Sirhan became eligible for parole in 1986 but has been repeatedly rejected.

During the past several years, Schrade has re-focused his attentions on the assassination. Convinced there was a second gunman, he has been pushing for a thorough investigation. “There never was an investigation. They just grabbed Sirhan without evidence or witnesses and refused to go after the second gunman.

“I’m not going to get into conspiracy theories – whether he was programmed or not. Sirhan was there and fired (the first) two shots, missing Kennedy and shooting me. The gun was two to three feet in front of Robert Kennedy according to the prosecution’s own witnesses,” Schrade says. As he was being subdued, Sirhan wildly fired off a number of more shots. In all, six people were shot. The Los Angeles County coroner determined that three bullets struck Kennedy's body and a fourth passed harmlessly through his clothing, CNN reported in a 2012 story sub-titled, “There Was A Second Shooter,” following a 2012 interview with Nina Rhodes-Hughes, a witness to the murder. Rhodes-Hughes said she heard two guns firing during the shooting and that authorities altered her account of the crime.

“It was an eight-shot revolver and Kennedy got shot four times in the back. Sirhan didn’t have the bullets,” Schrade says. ”He was captured out of position. The gun was two to three feet in front of Kennedy and Kennedy got hit at point-blank range in the back. It couldn’t be Sirhan. It had to be a second gunman.

“The prosecution knew this, knew there was a second gunman and didn’t do anything to investigate it. They just did a quickie on Sirhan and sent him to the gas chamber. They were going to murder this guy,” Schrade says. “It was a well-planned investigation in order to convict Sirhan. They falsified the evidence right from the beginning.”

Asked for his thoughts on motivations behind the assassination, Schrade says, “we can only guess at the motivations because we never investigated the second gunman. And I don’t guess at things anymore, only facts and truth. They decided to go after Sirhan. I don’t know why. It could have been for political reasons, but ‘why’ has not been answered.

“I’m 93. The only thing I can do at this point is make a public declaration and try to get the people that have some influence involved,” Schrade says. “Hopefully it will move these organizations to do the right thing, by Kennedy, and by Sirhan.”

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