YAKIMA For probably most Americans, June 6 came and went quietly.
Even for Alonzo Marquez of Yakima and Richard Hernandez of Moses Lake.
Marquez, raised in Outlook, and Hernandez, who grew up in Mabton, were with Sen. Robert “Bobby” Kennedy just hours before he was assassinated on June 4, 1968. Kennedy died in a hospital early the morning of June 6.
Even though the events of 50 years ago are etched in their memories, Marquez and Hernandez didn’t remember this year was the 50th anniversary of the assassination.
Others reminded them.
“I was surprised it was 50 years,” Marquez said. “It’s always seemed like it happened yesterday.”
Marquez and Hernandez were a couple of wide-eyed students at Yakima Valley Community College, where they met and became friends.
Both also became friends of a female student who turned out to be Kennedy’s cousin. Befriending Wendy Turner led to three weeks of excitement they didn’t dream, plan or expect, but will never forget.
They worked for the Bobby Kennedy campaign for president in Oregon during that stretch.
Hernandez and Marquez said it was an exciting time in their lives, but also devastating. They learned how fun politics could be and how cruel.
Marquez, now 73, and Hernandez, 72, were politically aware, but not necessarily involved at the time. They preferred the Democratic Party to the Republicans.
As they got to know Turner, she referred to Kennedy as her cousin “Bobby.” They thought she was kidding. After a while, they started to wonder about her sanity because she continued her cousin Bobby routine.
Kennedy, who had launched his candidacy in November of 1967, was coming to Oregon in May of 1968, and Turner was going to join the campaign.
She invited Marquez and Hernandez to tag along to Kennedy’s campaign headquarters in the Portland, Ore. area to meet Kennedy.
Both still thought Turner was crazy or running a hoax.
They took her up on the invitation, however, and followed her in Hernandez’s 1956 Chevrolet.
They surmised that Turner would give up the hoax soon and return to Yakima.
“I told Richard, ‘We’ll go as far as Wapato and turn back,’” Marquez said.
But Turner drove through Wapato and kept going.
“She’ll turn back in Toppenish,” Marquez said, and Turner turned south onto U.S. Highway 97 toward Oregon.
Marquez continued to believe the trip was an elaborate hoax as they drove through Goldendale, Biggs Junction, The Dalles and Hood River. But Hernandez was starting to turn.
“When we got around Stevenson, I told Al it might be true; she wouldn’t let us follow her this far,” Hernandez said.
“I didn’t believe her until we pulled up to a building just outside of Portland with a huge banner that said Bobby Kennedy Campaign headquarters,” Marquez said.
Turner exited her car and waved at Marquez and Hernandez to follow her.
“Come on, I’ll introduce you to cousin Bobby,” Marquez recalled Turner saying.
As the door opened, Marquez could see Kennedy, his wife Ethel, Ted Kennedy and other family members, including Kennedy’s children, gathered in one location.
Turner took him and Hernandez directly to Kennedy and introduced them.
“He said, ‘Would you like to be guards?’” Marquez said. “It just came from out of the blue.”
For a moment, Marquez and Hernandez didn’t know what to say.”
“We thought (the trip) was going to be just for the day,” Hernandez said.
Growing up as farm workers, the pair had never envisioned themselves involved in anybody’s presidential campaign. Now, they were mixing with the Kennedys.
Hernandez noticed actor Paul Newman and Hall of Fame football player Roosevelt “Rosy” Greer.
Marquez spoke with Pierre Salinger.
Marquez and Hernandez told the campaign they really couldn’t help.
They had driven from Yakima with only the clothes they were wearing, no personal hygiene items and no money.
“They said, ‘Don’t worry about that; we’ll take care of you,’” Marquez said. “We went out to the car, and the battery was dead. They bought Rick a new battery.”
Both men got new clothing and a place to stay. And they were paid for the work they did for the campaign.
Marquez and Hernandez took their place in a squad of guards that included world famous astronaut John Glenn and Olympic Decathlon Champion Rafer Johnson.
“I was surprised. I thought John Glenn was Republican,” Marquez said.
Marquez and Hernandez were usually placed at the front. Marquez believes it was because nobody knew them, while everybody knew Johnson and Glenn.
“It was probably because we looked like couple of Mafia toughs,” Marquez said. “Maybe nobody would try anything looking at us.”
Hernandez said they weren’t guards only. They also did canvassing and coordinating — whatever was needed.
“We had a lot of fun with Bobby Kennedy and his group,” Hernandez said. “We had some elaborate dinners.”
“We were treated like kings,” Marquez said.
Wherever Kennedy went in Oregon, Marquez and Hernandez were there. It seemed like non-stop campaigning, day and night.
The last stop was at the airport in Portland on June 4. The entourage went there to board their plane and head to Los Angeles, where the Kennedys wanted to watch California primary election returns.
“They asked us to go with them, but we couldn’t,” Marquez said. “Finals were coming up, and we didn’t want to get set back.”
Marquez said Kennedy told them he was going to take a day off in Los Angeles and then head to New York.
Would they join the campaign there, Kennedy asked. They said they would, and the Kennedy entourage flew off to Los Angeles.
“That was a sad moment, watching that plane take off. We really wanted to go,” Marquez said.
Marquez and Hernandez hung around Portland for a while, having dinner, doing some cleanup and other odds and ends.
Then they drove quietly the first part of their return to Yakima. It was about midnight, and they were just past The Dalles when they turned their radio on.
“In a matter of few seconds, there was a news flash saying Bobby had been shot,” Marquez said.
The rest of the drive home was very quiet.
“I cried,” Marquez said.
Hernandez asked what Marquez wanted to do.
“Al says, ‘keep going,’” Hernandez said.
Both said they’ve never had an experience like that again.