JFK Jr. visited White House at invitation of Nixon, Reagan

Clinton claims corrected in light of more accurate historical information

July 24, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton conjured up a touching image Wednesday, when he wistfully recounted a spring evening in 1998 when he brought John F. Kennedy Jr. back to his boyhood haunts in the White House for the first time since his father's assassination in 1963.

Touching, but not true.

In fact, the 10-year-old John Kennedy Jr. had returned to the White House on Feb. 3, 1971, with his sister, Caroline, and their mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, at the invitation of President Richard M. Nixon and his wife, Pat. They had been invited to view the official portraits of President and Mrs. Kennedy before the public unveiling.

During that visit, the Kennedys were also treated to an intimate dinner with the Nixons in the White House private residence. Nixon showed John Kennedy Jr. the Oval Office that night.

That was the Kennedys' first glimpse of the home they had abruptly left more than seven years earlier.

"Thank you with all my heart," Jacqueline Onassis wrote in a thank-you note. "A day I always dreaded turned out to be one of the most precious ones I have spent with my children."

Thursday, the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace Foundation posted that note on its Web site, along with a letter from John Kennedy Jr., written in the 10-year-old John's childish scrawl.

"I don't think I could rember much about the White House but it was really nice seeing it all again," Kennedy wrote. "When I sat on Lincoln's bed and wished for something, my wish really came true. I wished that I would have good luck at school."

JFK Jr. returned to the White House at least one other time before the Clintons. In June 1981, he and much of the Kennedy clan watched in the Rose Garden as President Ronald Reagan bestowed the Robert F. Kennedy medal to RFK's widow, Ethel.

Separately this week, both Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton asserted that they had reintroduced JFK Jr. to the private White House quarters for the first time since 1963.

When reminded later that this was not true, both Clintons told aides that they were merely recounting what Kennedy himself had told them during his visit in March 1998. White House aides took pains Wednesday night to say that the president's reminiscences were by no means supposed to be a historic recitation of fact.

A spokeswoman said that Hillary Clinton had been aware of the Nixon-era visit but thought Kennedy had visited only the public section of the White House.

Pub Date: 7/24/99

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