Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Recordings
Johnson Conversation #13113 in Jun 1968 (WH6806.01)
Date: June 1968
A few minutes fter midnight on June 5, 1968, Democratic presidential candidate Senator Robert F. Kennedy was shot shortly after claiming victory in the California Democratic primary in Los Angeles. He was rushed to hospital in a critical condition.
At the time of the shooting, Senator Edward Kennedy had been in San Francisco, where he had been campaigning on behalf of his brother. Returning to his hotel after a campaign event, he learned of the shooting after he turned on the television and saw coverage of the shooting's aftermath. He rushed to the Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles where Robert Kennedy had been taken.1Hours later, it fell to Edward Kennedy to call his father, Joseph, in Cape Code to tell him that a second of his sons had been shot.2
Twenty-five hours after being shot, at 3:44 [A.M.] Pacific Time on June 6, Robert Kennedy died.
In this call, about four hours after Robert Kennedy was pronounced dead, President Johnson called Senator Edward Kennedy to offer his condolences. Johnson was in the Mansion at the White House. Kennedy was inLos Angeles.
Editors' Note: Kennedy's side of the call is difficult to hear at times.
Edward Kennedy: Mr. President, how are you? Ted Kennedy here.
President Johnson: Ted, I know what a burden you bear, but your shoulders are broad, and you’ve got lots of people who love you and who want to help you and make it as bearing and . . . as possible. So I don’t want to add to your burdens by having to answer my call, but I didn’t feel like that a wire would just be enough. [Lady] Bird [Johnson] and I wired your parents and Ethel [Kennedy] and we don’t want to require them to just be answering a lot of our calls.3 But I did want to talk to you direct and tell you that anything and everything that I have or the country has or that we can get, is at your disposal, if you’ll just tell [James] Flug to tell Jim Jones.4
And we are grieved and wish there was something we could do. But we can’t. I was up from 3:30 [A.M.] here yesterday morning until 2 [A.M.] last night and then I was up since 5 [A.M.], and you—I know what you’ve gone through because we just had a tenth of it here. But if there is anything, why, we’re as close as the telephone, and your boy Flug has been handling things with us. We’ve told him. And if you’ll just whisper, why, your requests will be our command.
Kennedy: Well, Mr. President, you’re most kind. I can’t tell you how much [unclear]. You know that both my parents appreciated your callfive years ago and they certainly did the other night.5 [Unclear] you've really [been] terribly kind to me personally and I know the members of the family want you to know. I appreciate it more [unclear] you understand that it's [unclear] have to [unclear] feel our way along. But knowing that your call and those expressions were very, very [unclear]. Thank you for them.
President Johnson: Well, I’ll be seeing you. But please, just tell any of your folks to talk to my boy Jim Jones. He—you may not have met him, but he’s a boy that was with Howard Edmondson [Kennedy acknowledges] and who took Marvin Watson’s place when he moved over.6 He’s the old Kenny O’Donnell desk.
President Johnson: And he works—he and Tom Johnson--work with, I think you’ve got a boy named Flug.
Kennedy: Yes, that’s right, Jim Flug.
President Johnson: And they like him. So you just tell him whatever we can help do, well, we want to do, in any way we can. And may God be with you.
Kennedy: Thank you very, very much, Mr. President.
President Johnson: Bye.
Kennedy: And I appreciate it very much.
President Johnson: Come in any time you feel like it. Let’s get together when this is all over.
Kennedy: Fine, Mr. President.
President Johnson: We've been too few of us, and we’ve got to stay a little closer together. Bye.
Kennedy: Thank you so much, Mr. President.
President Johnson: Bye.
- 1. Peter S. Canellos, ed., Last Lion: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2009), pp.132-33.
- 2.Ann Gargan, Edward Kennedy's cousin and Joseph's niece and nurse, had learned the news during the night but had decided not to wake Joseph Kennedy with the news, prefering to wait until morning when there would hopefully be clearer information. "How Kennedy Clan Learned of Shooting," Chicago Tribune, 6 June 1958, p.3.
- 3. Ethel S. Kennedy was Robert Kennedy's widow.
- 4. James R. Jones was Presidential Appointments Secretary. James F. (Jim) Flug was a legislative assistant and then chief counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy from 1967–1973. Flug was in Washington while most of the campaign staffers were in California. It therefore fell to him to field the multitude of calls coming into the office. He also assisted with the funeral arrangements. Canellos, Last Lion, p.134.
- 5. Kennedy is referring to Johnson's calls to the Kennedy family at the time of the assassination of his other brother, President John F. Kennedy, five years previously.
- 6. Howard Edmondson was former Democratic Governor of Oklahoma. W. Marvin Watson was the unofficial White House Chief of Staff from 1963 until his appointment as Postmaster General on April 26, 1968.
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