Dunbar Township man had special connection to Kennedy brothers
June 6 carries poignant memories for Martin Griglak, 87, of Dunbar Township. He was in Chicago, preparing for the Democratic National Convention while working for the Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy campaign, when he got the word that Kennedy had been assassinated in Los Angeles.
Joseph Kennedy early on decided he wanted one of his sons elected as president. He had made a fortune preparing for the repeal of Prohibition, anchoring ships loaded with whiskey off the northeast coast, waiting for the repeal. When it came, he was ready, according to Griglak.
The elder Kennedy wanted his eldest son, Joseph, to become president. But young Joseph was killed during World War II. John F. Kennedy was next in line.
Griglak said he was asked to help the candidacy of JFK the first time he became involved with Democratic national politics. He was a member of an AT&T union group and helped Kennedy gain the support of his union, along with help from the Pittsburgh-area United Automobile Workers union.
His contact with JFK was very limited.
“I don't think I saw him more than twice,” said Griglak.
He started working for Bobby Kennedy when JFK was running for president. He got to know Bobby quite well.
“Me and Bobby were tight,” said Griglak.
JFK was elected president and appointed Bobby Kennedy as his attorney general. Then JFK was assassinated in Dallas in November 1963.
When it came time for someone to step forward after Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to seek the presidency again, Bobby Kennedy was contemplating running in March 1968. Griglak, as president of the Western Division of the Pennsylvania Federation of Telephone Workers, notified Kennedy by mail that his union board had voted to make him available for Kennedy's campaign.
Kennedy quickly replied that he was deciding whether he would run. Griglak said he was picked to help Kennedy, since Kennedy was young and known to be a bit on the brash side.
“I was known as a ‘hard guy,' ” said Griglak, a Navy veteran who had fought on Okinawa as an infantryman when there was a shortage of Marines. He played semi-pro football after his military service.
Officially, he was to be Bobby Kennedy's bodyguard. However, he did not go with Kennedy to California.
He worked in Chicago, building support for Kennedy among those groups at the1968 convention. He worked with Milton Shapp and became friends with him. Shapp later became governor of Pennsylvania. Griglak worked on his campaign as well.
Together, Shapp and Griglak made their headquarters in a large room on the top floor of a hotel in Chicago that Shapp had rented, using adjacent rooms when more private negotiations took place.
While Griglak was working in Chicago, Bobby Kennedy was campaigning on the West Coast, working his way down to Los Angeles. While in Chicago, the advance people got word of Kennedy's assassination.
Griglak said he could not believe that Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian with Jordanian citizenship, had such easy access to the podium at the Ambassador Hotel on June 6, 1968.
He has his own theory that the assassination of JFK and Bobby Kennedy were linked to the same people in the world of organized crime.
After Bobby's death, Griglak said Edward Kennedy briefly thought of running for the presidency in 1968. But a meeting with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley led to Edward Kennedy deciding not to run.
In later years, Edward Kennedy decided to run again. And Griglak became part of that campaign, accompanying Kennedy to various events in Western Pennsylvania.
Working for the Kennedy campaigns was just some of the adventures Griglak became involved in.
Griglak took assignments for the government working in foreign countries for the CIA and other agencies, including assignments in Italy, Africa, China and Indonesia. There are two plaques on his office wall from the British intelligence service for his work in Italy and other locations.
Karl Polacek is a Trib Total Media staff writer.