Marvin Scott interviews Bobby Kennedy

Marvin Scott interviews Bobby Kennedy

The pall of grief hanging in the air was as oppressive as the heat that had been baking the city for two days. New York and the entire nation remained in a numbed state of shock as reality sunk in that history had repeated itself. Another Kennedy had been assassinated.

Robert Kennedy had just won the California Presidential Primary and was assured of receiving his party's nomination, when a loner named Sirhan Sirhan shattered his body and Democratic dreams. Kennedy was shot in the head and died some 26 hours later.

I had often been with the junior senator from New York, engaging in journalistic sparring with him during one-on-one interviews during his campaign and afterwards. I first met him years earlier when brother Jack was waltzing through the coalfields of West Virginia during his ascent to the White House.

I admired Bobby as a man of strong conviction, who I always believed was a powerful and influential force behind his brother. Bobby was a vibrant man with an endearing smile, and a definitely non-New York accent. He was true charmer, a requisite for any good politician. And Bobby wore it well.

I remembered Bobby in life as I stood outside St. Patrick's Cathedral on that steamy hot June day in 1968 reporting on his death for the Mutual Broadcasting System. By the hundreds of thousands people came to pay their respects. The rich and the poor, black and white, old and young. They waited in line upwards of five hours to spend five seconds filing past the bier where his body lay in state. Bobby touched their lives, and on this day they came to touch his African mahogany casket for a tearful goodbye.

Some made the sign of the cross, others genuflected. But most stretched their hands out to gently touch the lid of the closed casket. There's an old Irish superstition, I was told, that touching a casket keeps the devil from troubling the soul of the deceased. The throng of people was so great, authorities had to abandon plans to end the procession at 10 pm. St. Patrick's Cathedral remained open through the night. It was estimated that more than one million people had come to pay their respects. It was the biggest outpouring of grief in the city's history.

I had seen St. Patrick's Cathedral in many lights, but never quite like this. There was a muffled silence throughout the cavernous cathedral. Usually darkened at night, it was aglow in a brilliant pool of light that surrounded Kennedy's casket. Smoke from candles on either side curled into the light.

I remember feeling the strain from the 90-degree heat and the emotion of the moment as members of the Kennedy family arrived at the Cathedral. Ethel Kennedy, pregnant with her 11th child knelt in a front pew with her three eldest children. Earlier I had learned that Jacqueline Kennedy, who had endured the same ordeal four years earlier, was overcome by sorrow as she knelt by her brother-in-law's coffin and cried.

All this was just a prelude of what was yet to come, a high mass the following day, a somber funeral procession aboard a train, and finally burial at Arlington National Cemetery. I was at La Guardia airport as Bobby's body arrived aboard a plane sent by President Johnson. I was at St. Patrick's Cathedral to observe a grievous moment in time. And I filed live reports from Penn Station, standing next to the legendary columnist Walter Winchell, as the funeral cortege boarded that special train, draped in black, for Bobby's final trip to Washington.

I will never forget the reverence of so many people united in grief, the flags at half –staff hanging limp in the still air, and the black bunting. And there were the buttons, hundreds of them trimmed in black, with the words, "We Mourn Our Loss."

Often, I have thought, along with multitudes of others, how history might be different had it not been for the act of that lone gunman in a hotel kitchen 42 years ago.