Volunteers Plan 50 Mile Walk In The Footsteps Of Robert F Kennedy

6:53 PM, Feb 8, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- Fifty years ago Saturday, Robert F Kennedy set off on a remarkable walk.

50 miles from DC to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia -- in dress shoes. 
On Saturday at 4 am, starting at Great Falls Tavern, a group of hikers plan to do it again -- in better shoes.

The memory of Bobby Kennedy's unquenchable spirit still brings tears to a man who walked with him. "We lost a lot," says James Symington, who was Kennedy's chief of staff, and later a congressman from Missouri.

It started as a dare from President Kennedy, who thought the troops ought to be fit enough to march 50 miles in three days. "Bobby said, 'Why not in one day?'" says Symington. "And Jack said, 'Ok, go do it!'"

So RFK called his chief of staff and a few friends, and at 4 am on February 9th, 1963, they set off walking down the C and O Canal Tow Path for Harpers Ferry, 50 miles away.

"It was an icy day, very cold. And all the mud was kicked up in icy pinnacles, so you slipped and skidded," says Symington." 

They made it about 26 miles on sheer dedication and loyalty. And near Point of Rocks, they sat down, pretty sure they couldn't go any farther.

"A helicopter came, bap, bap, bap, right over our head. And it came down and disgorged three or four reporters and cameramen....Bobby got up and he painfully put on his loafers again.... and trudged off on his own."

About 11 pm, RFK turned up at Camp David, having trudged the entire 50 miles. Ethel Kennedy rubbed his blistered feet. "He would give it the best he had," says Symington. "He would never quit for anything."

The walk inspired a craze... everybody started trying to walk 50 miles in a day. 9 months later, JFK was murdered. 5 years later, RFK was assasinated. And James Symington still weeps over what might have been. "History doesn't review it's alternatives. All we know is that he was a remarkable guy."

If you want to take the hike -- in dress shoes or hiking shoes -- you can meet the group tomorrow at 4 AM at the Great Falls Tavern Visitors Center. It's near Potomac, at the very end of MacArthur Boulevard in the C & O Canal National Historic Park.

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