Paul Schrade: He Was Wounded When Robert Kennedy Was Killed and He Believed There Was a Second Gunman

From a New York Times obit by Richard Sandomir headlined “Paul Schrade, 97, Who Was Wounded When Robert Kennedy Was Slain, Dies”:

Paul Schrade, a prominent union official who was wounded in the fusillade of bullets that killed Senator Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, and who believed that a second gunman, in addition to the convicted assassin, Sirhan B. Sirhan, fired shots that day at the Ambassador Hotel, died at his home in Los Angeles.

Senator Kennedy was shot on June 5, shortly after he thanked his supporters in the hotel ballroom for helping him win the California Democratic presidential primary and headed into the hotel pantry to meet reporters. It was a joyful moment for the campaign — a critical step before the party was to meet in Chicago that summer to nominate a candidate for president.

Mr. Schrade was the Western regional director of the United Auto Workers and a confidant to Senator Kennedy who had introduced the senator to two other invaluable allies, Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers. He walked about six feet behind Senator Kennedy as they entered the pantry.

Mr. Sirhan began firing. The authorities said his bullets hit Senator Kennedy, Mr. Schrade and four other people before a crowd of supporters subdued him.

“I was shaking violently and I fell,” Mr. Schrade told The Washington Post in 2018. “Then Bob fell. I saw flashes and heard crackling. The crackling actually was all the other bullets being fired.” It was reported that some witnesses heard Senator Kennedy ask: “Is everybody OK? Is Paul all right?”

A bullet entered Mr. Schrade’s head just above his forehead. He fell into the arms of a waiter.

“I remember looking down and seeing Paul Schrade,” Dick Tuck, an aide to Senator Kennedy, told The Los Angeles Times in 1988, “and if I ever saw a dead man, it was him.”

Someone placed a straw hat over Mr. Schrade’s head, believing he was dead, then felt his pulse. He was still alive.

His skull had been fractured, but the bullet had not entered his brain. Several days after surgery to remove the bullet (some fragments remained), he met with reporters at Kaiser Foundation Hospital in Los Angeles.

“I didn’t see the gunman,” he told them, his head wrapped in bandages. “There could have been one or 10.”

In fact, Mr. Schrade came to believe that there were two gunmen: Mr. Sirhan, who shot him and the other four people, and another, who shot Senator Kennedy. He claimed that the Los Angeles police did not do their best to find the second gunman, and that more than the eight bullets in Mr. Sirhan’s .22-caliber revolver had been fired in the pantry.

“Yes, he did shoot me. Yes, he shot four other people and aimed at Kennedy,” Mr. Schrade told The Post in 2018, on the 50th anniversary of the assassination. “The important thing is he did not shoot Robert Kennedy. Why didn’t they go after the second gunman?”

No official investigation ever found a second gunman.

Mr. Schrade never got what he wanted, a full reinvestigation of the assassination, despite his legal efforts to force the Los Angeles Police Department to disclose its so-called confidential 10-volume summary of its investigation of the assassination (which was made public when it was turned over to the state of California in 1987) and to greatly expand ballistics testing of Mr. Sirhan’s gun.

Mr. Schrade pointed to, among other things, the findings of an acoustics expert, Philip Van Praag, who examined an audio recording made by a journalist in the pantry and determined that 13 shots were fired, and the autopsy report that said Senator Kennedy was shot from behind, at point-blank range, and Mr. Sirhan stood in front of him.

“There are voluminous piles of paper that are strewn everywhere in his house,” Mr. Weil, Mr. Schrade’s brother-in-law, said in a phone interview. “L.A.P.D. archives. Other people’s work.”

Louise Stone Duff, Mr. Schrade’s sister, said: “It was such a quest for him. It consumed him. We had Zoom calls every few weeks with my kids and Uncle Paul, and it always came up.”

Mr. Schrade’s belief that while Mr. Sirhan had shot him, he did not kill Senator Kennedy led him to attend Mr. Sirhan’s 15th parole hearing, in 2016, where he apologized to him for not attending previous hearings and not fighting harder for his release.

“I should have been here long ago, and that’s why I feel guilty for not being here to help you and to help me,” Mr. Schrade was quoted as saying by The Associated Press. As Mr. Sirhan left the hearing, Mr. Schrade shouted: “I’m so sorry this is happening to you! It’s my fault!”

Mrs. Duff said that her brother never sought counseling after the shooting.

“I think his intense involvement with Sirhan was his way of helping himself,” she said.

Mr. Schrade recorded a video in support of Mr. Sirhan’s bid for parole in 2021. Senator Kennedy’s son Douglas attended the virtual hearing and urged his release; another son, Robert Jr., wrote a letter supporting his release. Although the parole board recommended Mr. Sirhan’s release, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California denied it.

Paul Hermann Schrade was born on Dec. 17, 1924, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. His father, William, was a florist, and his mother, Florence (Keil) Schrade, was a homemaker.

After dropping out of Yale University in his junior year, Mr. Schrade headed to Southern California, where he got a job at North American Aviation, an aerospace company that was later known as North American Rockwell and Rockwell International.

He quickly became a union activist. He rose within the ranks of the United Auto Workers to become president of the union local at the Rockwell plant in Los Angeles before moving to Detroit in the mid-1950s as the assistant to Walter Reuther, the union’s president.

In a speech to college students in Ohio in 1959, Mr. Schrade pointed to labor’s role in fighting Communism and building the American dream: “We have the brains, we have manpower and we have the natural resources and scientific ability to provide ourselves with both plenty and freedom.”

In 1962, he was chosen the union’s Western regional director. After the riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles in 1965, he was involved in starting the Watts Labor Community Action Council and the East Los Angeles Community Union.

But after Senator Kennedy’s assassination, his fortunes at the union began to sour. His patron, Mr. Reuther, died in a plane crash in 1970, and he was replaced by Leonard Woodcock, who did not approve of Mr. Schrade’s liberal activism.

In 1972, he lost a bitter re-election campaign as regional director, and Mr. Woodcock ousted him from the union’s executive board. He returned to work on the factory floor at North American until his retirement.

Mrs. Duff is Mr. Schrade’s only immediate survivor. His wife, Monica Weil, died in 2019.

Mr. Schrade never lost his passion for the causes espoused by Senator Kennedy. He was part of a successful campaign to build a school honoring him on the site of the Ambassador Hotel. (Among the other options that had been considered for the site was the world’s tallest building, proposed by Donald J. Trump in the 1990s.)

In 2010, the Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex opened, at a price tag of $600 million, the most expensive school built in the United States. The library is named for Mr. Schrade.

“This is a wonderful tribute to him,” Mr. Schrade said. “This is what he wanted. He saw that kids were suffering as a result of poor education, poor schools and low income, and wanted to do something about it.”

Richard Sandomir is a Times obituaries writer. He previously wrote about sports media and sports business. He is also the author of several books, including “The Pride of the Yankees: Lou Gehrig, Gary Cooper and the Making of a Classic.”

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