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The attorney general inserted the verse into the speech but each time he read it, he broke down, Guthman wrote.

As Kennedy prepared to travel to Scranton and received a copy of the speech, Guthman had stricken the lines from the final draft.

“Why did you do that?” Kennedy asked.

“You’ll never get through it,” Guthman said. “You don’t have to put yourself through that.”

Although burdened by remorse, Kennedy felt compelled.

“I’ve been practicing in front of a mirror,” he told Guthman. “I can’t get through it yet … but I will.”

And he did.

Kennedy’s whirlwind, seven-hour trip to the region revived his spirits and resolve.

“On the plane back to Washington, astonished by the reception he had received … he made an irrevocable decision about his future,” wrote Guthman, who died in 2008. “Somehow, he would remain in public service.”

The Scranton trip brought Kennedy to a realization that the affection and appreciation people felt for his brother had been transferred to him. He had been adrift for months after the assassination and knew he could not remain in President Johnson’s cabinet.

The two were bitter enemies. Kennedy had vigorously opposed Johnson’s selection as vice president on the 1960 Democratic presidential ticket, and Johnson held the attorney general directly accountable for his exclusion from President Kennedy’s inner circle.

Before his local appearance, Robert Kennedy had confided to others that he was thinking about leaving government completely, becoming a college president or taking a year off to travel and write.

“He didn’t know what he was going to do with his life,” Nealon said. “It was acknowledged by all that Scranton was a wake-up call. This turned him around.”

Kennedy resigned as attorney general in September 1964 and was elected that November to the U.S. Senate from New York.

Amid growing opposition to the Vietnam War, he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president on March 16, 1968. Minutes after declaring victory in the California primary election, he was shot in a Los Angeles hotel kitchen pantry on June 5, 1968.

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