The day after Robert F. Kennedy was shot and killed, a photograph appeared on newspaper pages across America. It was a photograph of an Ambassador Hotel busboy cradling the slain senator’s head in his right hand. That busboy was 17-years-old at the time. His name is Juan Romero. The now-67-year-old man spoke recently about his experience with Kennedy, including his last words.
That fateful night in the hotel kitchen wasn’t Juan’s first experience with Kennedy. The previous day, he and another boy went to the senator’s hotel room to deliver food he had ordered for room service. Romero remembers that Robert Kennedy had been on the phone when they arrived but put the phone down to answer the door. He looked at the boys and said, “Come on in, boys,” according to Fox News. Juan remembers that Kennedy actually looked at them instead of through or past them like many hotel guests. He said that he remembers “walking out of there like I was 10 feet tall.”
The following night was not so pleasant, but it is one that is emblazoned in his memory. After finishing his speech, Robert walked through the hotel kitchen. He stopped to shake hands with some kitchen employees. Romero was one of them.
Juan stretched his arm out as far as he could to shake Kennedy’s hand as he drew near. The senator shook his hand and was shot as he pulled his hand away. Romero stepped out to try to help Robert. NPR cites him as saying that he kneeled down next to the presidential hopeful and noticed his lips moving, so he put his ear next to his mouth. Juan recalls Kennedy asking, “Is everyone OK?” to which he replied, “Yes, everybody’s OK.” Romero slid his hand “between the cold concrete and his head just to make him comfortable.” He still remembers the feeling of blood rushing through his fingers. Juan described doing one more thing to help Robert.
“I remember I had a rosary in my shirt pocket and I took it out, thinking that he would need it a lot more than me. I wrapped it around his right hand and then they wheeled him away.”
Juan Romero received lots of letters in the days following the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Some were kind, but many were accusatory and angry, blaming him and telling him that Kennedy may be alive if he had not stopped to shake his hand. Juan recalled being on the bus to school the following day and being recognized by a woman seated near him. She was reading the newspaper and looked at him. She pointed to the picture of him with Kennedy and said, “This is you, isn’t it?” Romero remembers looking down at his hands then and seeing dried blood beneath his fingernails.
Juan has never forgotten how Robert Kennedy made him feel during their brief interaction when he delivered room service to him. In 2010, he says that he bought a suit and visited his grave in Arlington Cemetery. Of that day he says, “I felt a little bit like that first day that I met him,” Romero reportedly said. “I felt important. I felt American. And I felt good.”