4 The Other Guy in the RFK Assassination Photo
In June of 1968, Senator Robert Kennedy lived up to the family tradition of being shot dead by a madman for a stupid reason. In this case, it was by Sirhan Sirhan, who we can only assume was pissed off that his parents neglected to give him two separate names. At the moment of the assassination, this iconic photograph was taken as Kennedy lay dying, head propped up by some random, surprised dude.
Sirhan shot first.
That random dude was Juan Romero, a 17-year-old Mexican immigrant who worked as a busboy at the hotel that Kennedy was staying at when he was shot. He was snapped in the photo because Kennedy was shaking his hand at the moment when Sirhan took his life.
After the photograph circulated the world media, grieving citizens who have an unhealthy habit of blaming anyone but the crazy dude with the gun began to latch onto Romero as the culprit. Bags of mail flooded into the hotel where Romero worked, many accusing him of putting Kennedy in harm's way by stopping to shake his hand, or even demanding to know why he hadn't taken the bullet himself. In fairness, many praised him and hoped, we guess, to rub his head for luck.
If he had jumped in front of Kennedy, he probably would have gotten hate mail from racists for taking bullets away from "real Americans."
Being that he was just a simple immigrant from the projects, Romero couldn't deal with the newfound fame that now haunted him, and he fled from town to town in an effort to return to the simple life. It didn't help that he always harbored guilt over the role he believed he had in delaying Kennedy long enough for Sirhan to get a good shot in.
National Archives/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Similar to Jackie's "It's a beautiful day! Let's put the top down!" guilt.
While he did eventually settle down and raise a family, Romero missed out on attending college and, as of the last time a reporter forced him to talk, never fully learned to cope with the celebrity caused by the infamous picture. It's so weird, it's like some people don't want to be famous. Hey, speaking of which ...
3 The Sixth Man Who Raised the Flag at Iwo Jima
So how awesome would it be to do something in war so heroic and inspirational that a reporter actually takes a picture of you doing it and then the government uses it to inspire the whole country for decades after? You'd keep that goddamned photo in your pocket for the rest of your life, right? Cop tries to pull you over for doing 70 in a 30 zone, just whip out that photo. "Sorry, officer, I must have been distracted remembering that time I raised the fucking flag at Iwo Jima." And you can bet you'd never pay for another drink.
Hell, the above photo not only won the Pulitzer Prize in the category of Awesome and/or Badass Photos, but Clint Eastwood made two different movies about it.
"He said he has to do another to make up for Paul Walker and Ryan Phillippe being in this one."
Oh, the men in that photo became celebrities, all right. And, as we just established, that's not everyone's goal in life.
"Does my ass really look that big?"
The problem was, the raising of the flag was by no means the end of the fighting -- of the six men who appeared in the photo, three wound up getting killed in battle soon thereafter. Fearing that it would be a PR nightmare if all of the men lost their lives, the American military brass decided to pull the survivors out of the war and make them famous. John Bradley and Rene Gagnon were quickly identified and flown home, which left the third and last flag man, Native American Ira Hayes, to become the real life Private Ryan. But Hayes didn't want to be found.
Sure, Hayes knew that staying behind would likely kill him (it was the deadliest battle to date in the Pacific theater), but he didn't want to abandon his fellow men just because someone had taken a cool photo. He allegedly even threatened Gagnon with bodily harm if he named Hayes as the sixth man in the scene. But eventually, pressure from his superiors forced Gagnon to give up Hayes' name, and Hayes was pulled from combat, being a celebrity and all.
With a stare like that, who needs middle fingers?
So he came home, heard about how his friends back in the war were killed, one by one, and the resulting guilt ruined his life. Because it's not like the world would let him forget -- for the rest of his years, people tracked Hayes down at his home on the Pima Indian reservation to get his autograph, which just worsened the guilt he carried for having (in his mind) left his friends on Iwo Jima to die. Eventually, he succumbed to alcoholism.
Jesus, that's sad. Let's move on from the tragic stuff and look at a nice, peaceful painting ...