Out of her scrapbook, into JFK family lore

A Pensacola woman, at age 8, wrote President Kennedy to ask him to protect Santa Claus.

Associated Press
Published January 3, 2008

PENSACOLA - Concerned in 1961 the Russians would bomb the North Pole, 8-year-old Michelle Rochon wrote President John F. Kennedy.

"Please stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole because they will kill Santa Claus," she wrote.

He wrote back and closed his letter telling the young girl not to worry about Santa Claus.

"I spoke to him yesterday and he is fine," Kennedy wrote. "He will be making rounds this Christmas."

Today, Pensacola resident Michelle Rochon Phillips, 54, still has the original letter written by JFK. She was recently a guest of Good Morning America and taped a segment with Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy.

A third-grade student at Holy Cross School in Marine City, Mich., in October 1961, Phillips recalls her parents talking about the Russians testing nuclear weapons at the North Pole.

She told her mother she wanted to write the president.

"You've got to remember, President Kennedy was a hero to everybody back then," Phillips said. "Everybody just loved him."

She threw the letter, with misplaced capital letters, in the neighborhood's corner mailbox addressed to "President Kennedy; Washington, D.C."

Phillips still has newspaper clippings from 1961 when the story was picked up by the local media. National media attention followed after she got a reply from the president.

"I got letters from all over the world," she said. "It was my 15 minutes of fame."

The media attention died down after that, and for 46 years the letter and meticulous scrapbook have been stored safely away, shared occasionally with friends and family.

That changed a few weeks ago. Phillips was watching a segment of ABC's morning program in which Caroline Kennedy was discussing her latest book, A Family Christmas.

On the show, Caroline Kennedy read a copy of the letter by her father included in her book:

"Dear Michelle: I was glad to get your letter about trying to stop the Russians from bombing the North Pole and risking the life of Santa Claus."

"I heard it and I thought, 'Hey, that's my letter!'" Phillips said.

She called the show and they invited Caroline Kennedy back to talk about her book again. ABC media relations specialist Bridgette Maney said they did not tell Caroline Kennedy they had located Phillips and she would be there as well.

In a show transcript provided by Maney, correspondent Claire Shipman asked Caroline Kennedy if she ever wondered what happened to young Michelle.

"I did," she said. "Especially after I found this letter. I thought, well, she must be a little older than me, and I wonder where she is now."

"Well, wonder no more," Shipman replied, "because we have her here."

In the interview, Caroline Kennedy said it was the first letter she had seen with her father's actual signature on it.

Phillips said she wasn't worried about nuclear proliferation when she wrote the letter.

"I was just worried about Christmas and Santa Claus," she said laughing.

In the interview, Caroline Kennedy said the letter was indicative of the time with anxiety about the Soviet Union and nuclear testing.

"The Test Ban Treaty that was signed in 1963 was really, I think, my father's greatest accomplishment because ... it started us on the path toward nonproliferation," she said.

Phillips said the letter and JFK's reply also hark back to a more innocent time.

"I don't know if a child writes to a president today would get the same response," she said.