Paul Schrade shot as Robert F. Kennedy attacked
Friend devotes life to RFK's legacy, slaying By LINDA DEUTSCH Associated Press . tOS ANGELES Paul Schrade easily, recites the details of the last day of his life before he was shot in the head alongside his friend, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. He knows it all by heart, every step he took, every sight and sound, as if it were yesterday. ; In the 43 years since that transformative night when Schrade came close to losing his life, he has understood the details. But he is shadowed to this day by nagging questions: What really happened that night and who made it happen? '. Schrade, at 86, tall, white-haired and projecting the vitality of a much younger man, has given the second half of his life over to preserving Kennedy's legacy and trying to unravel the puzzle of his friend's assassination. He believes there was more than one gunman in the pantry of the Ambassador Hotel when he and Kennedy and four others were shot. And he plans to publish his story about what he has learned. For now, he declines to say what that is. He estimates he has spent a cumulative 10 years chasing clues and he's still at it "It's always on my mind," Schrade said. "It has to be. The family is not involved because they can't handle reliving the pain and suffering and they don't want to expose Ethel to it But I always keep a member of the family informed if we're about to release anything." But Schrade, who tries to live by the ideals Kennedy espoused, has a lot more to think about than the past After sinking into deep depression Mowing the assassination, Schrade found a way to move on by achieving a dream that some thought could never happen: the creation of a complex of public schools dedicated to Kennedy's legacy on the Ambassador Hotel site. "Talk about the school, not about me," he urged a reporter. But the two are inevitably intertwined. The recently opened stateof-the-art school library bears a large sign "Paul Schrade Library" and there is a plaque noting his "23 years of struggle to build the finest living memorial" to Kennedy. The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools opened in September. The complex of six schools where a student can go from kindergarten to high school graduation in one location was built at a cost of $578 million, the most expensive school in the nation. The campus includes a theater where the old Co-coanut Grove nightclub stood with Moroccan decor and the same palm leaf carpet pattern that was emblematic of the room where movie stars and presidents posed for pictures. It is a reminder of how the hotel looked in the early morning hours of June 5, 1968, when triumph turned to tragedy in seconds. Schrade remembers the cheers of the crowd and the touch of Kennedy's hand as they mounted a platform before thousands of supporters who helped him win the California Democratic presidential primary. "He gave me new recognition for everything I had done," Schrade said. "He thanked me from the podium and he grabbed my hand. I was the only one he shook hands with on the platform." Schrade, then western regional director of the United Auto Workers Union, had been the labor chair of Ken- ammmmMmm,u,nimm,Mm . J.L, y Supplies Service 1 Supplies Service Renovations r0 COOPER ST r k an'tinh $100 "Nrt HAvr. nedy s campaign and was at his side at many events, including a meeting with farmworker leader Cesar Chavez in rural Delano. On the fateful night, he was waiting with Kennedy to see if he would win the pivotal primary. "He knew it was life or death politically that night," says Schrade. "And it be muddsPoQls.c6mK mm m vVi.! " ' ..-,..: DEPTFOKD, NJ. A 7 M"i- -4. came a death." B u t first, he said, there was joy as the tide of votes turned and Kennedy's victory seemed assured. "There was a wonderful spirit upstairs on the fifth floor of the Ambassador Hotel," he said. "I sat with Bob and Ethel. There came a point when the decision was made to go downstairs a little after midnight" After thanking supporters, Kennedy was diverted 7 . f Y 4 " A v u: .J Paul Schrade looks at a photo of Robert F. Kennedy giving a speech the night he was assassinated. Schrade, who was wounded in the June 5, 1968, shooting, helped build a public school complex on the former Ambassador Hotel site. from his planned exit to move through the hotel pantry. Schrade remembers him shaking hands with two Hispanic employees of the hotel. "He turned and then I got hit. I got the first shot," Schrade recalled. "I thought I was being electrocuted. I fell right behind Bob. ... I was in and out of consciousness and when I came to and the doctor arrived, I said, Take care of the senator.' " He learned later that the mortally wounded Kennedy asked: "Is everyone all right? Is Paul all right?" He did not know that Kennedy had been killed until the next day, when UAW President Walter Reuther came to his bedside and told him. "I just turned away," he said. "I was so angry. We should have realized it was going to happen again." In light of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy five years earlier, he thought there should have been more Paul Schrade stands In front of a mural depicting Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and Cesar Chavez. It hangs In the Paul Schrade Library in the the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex. Photos by MARK J. TERRILL Associated Press security. Schrade underwent surgery and some fragments of the bullet remain in his skull "It took a long time for me to recover from this," he said. "People told me, 'You were so angry, so depressed you weren't on the job.' " In fart, he lost his job, suffering defeat for reelection to his UAW post In 1971, he met and married political attorney Monica Weil, and the Yale-educated Schrade, a native of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., turned in another direction. He joined the board of the American Civil Liberties Union and began working with his wife to investigate the RFK assassination and convicted assassin Sirhan Sirhan. He would become convinced there was a conspiracy. "I know there was a second gunman based on the evidence," he said. "Sirhan couldn't have done it and didn't do it alone."