Juan Romero, who as a 17-year-old busboy at the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard in June 1968, tried to help a mortally wounded Robert F. Kennedy moments after he was shot, died in Modesto this week. He was 68.

“He had a heart attack several days ago and his brain went too long without oxygen,” his longtime friend, TV newsman Rigo Chacon of San Jose, told the Los Angeles Times. “He passed away on Monday morning.”

Romero struggled for decades with the memory of the RFK assassination, according to the newspaper. He left Los Angeles and moved to Wyoming, later came back west and settled in San Jose, raised a family and devoted himself to construction work.

But he remained haunted by what happened just after midnight on June 5, 1968, when he was on duty as a busboy at the former Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire Boulevard near Koreatown. That was the night an assassin took aim at Robert F. Kennedy, a candidate for president of the United States. Romero, just 17 at the time, squatted next to the fallen U.S. senator, cradled Kennedy’s head, and tried to help him up before realizing how gravely wounded Kennedy was, according to The Times.

The photos of that moment, with confusion and despair in Romero’s young, dark eyes, made for searing portraits of 1960s upheaval and followed by two months the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and by five years the assassination of RFK’s brother, President John F. Kennedy.

It was only in recent years that Romero began to let go. Finally, he said, he was able to mark his birthday after years of refusing to celebrate because it was in the same month as RFK’s assassination.

Romero had not been ill, according to Chacon. In June, on the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s death, he told The Times he loved the hard, sweaty work of paving driveways and roads, and he had no intention of retiring. His marriage had failed many years earlier, but he said he was in regular contact with his children from that marriage, and he was giddy about a new romance with a Modesto woman.

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