MODESTO (CBS13) — He was the teenage busboy who rushed to help a dying Robert Kennedy in the Ambassador Hotel in 1968.
The presidential hopeful was riding a wave of popularity when an assassin’s bullet felled him in Los Angeles. A Los Angeles Times photographer captured Romero comforting Kennedy in his last moments.
Romero was just 17 at the time when he became a part of that history. Fifty years later, Romero passed away in Modesto this week.
The iconic snapshot shows presidential nominee Robert Kennedy sprawled out moments after being hit with gunshots, and Juan Romero using his hand to hoist Kennedy’s head off the cold floor, trying to give him a sense of comfort in what would become some of his final moments.
“All the people around him are adults,” Romero’s friend and long-time journalist Rogo Chacon said. “But the boy in the scenario is the one who rushed to be of some kind of help.”
Years after Kennedy’s assassination, Chacon became a close friend of Romero’s. He first found Romero to tell his story.
“I think he realized that he had become a part of a moment that was iconic in history,” Chacon said. “Time and Life magazines both reported that that picture was one of the top five in the century.”
Chacon says Romero once told him about the brief exchange Romero and Kennedy had in the moments captured in the photo.
“He told me that Bobby said, ‘Is everyone all right? Is everyone all right,’” Chacon said.
Romero’s life changed immediately following Kennedy’s assassination.
The teenage boy who rushed to help Kennedy became a man consumed with guilt and feelings that he should have saved Kennedy’s life.
Together Chacon and Romero visited Kennedy’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery.
“As he and I were conversing he excused himself and walked over to the grave and that’s when he started talking to Bobby and saying, ‘I’m sorry – I’m so sorry, I wish I could have done more.’”
A Kennedy, and a California busboy. Linked forever by an iconic photo, capturing an American tragedy.
A memorial service for Romero will be held Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at The Chapel of Flowers in San Jose.