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oypmomn4w5fqvh4avx2kwy3rgqPhoto: Shoup Family
Col. Harry Shoup was a NORAD commander who received a surprising phone call in 1955 about Santa — and started a new tradition.

This story about a fast-thinking colonel in the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) who calmed a crying child and started a new Christmas tradition is sure to warm the cockles of your heart. John sent it to me early this year, and I’ve been waiting until the right moment to share it.

Steve Hendrix at the Washington Post had the report.

“Col. Harry Shoup was a real by-the-book guy. At home, his two daughters were limited to phone calls of no more than three minutes (monitored by an egg timer) and were automatically grounded if they missed curfew by even a minute. At work, during his 28-year Air Force career, the decorated fighter pilot was known as a no-nonsense commander and stickler for rules.

“Which makes what happened that day in 1955 even more of a Christmas miracle.

“It was a December day in Colorado Springs when the phone rang on Col. Shoup’s desk. Not the black phone, the red phone.

“ ‘When that phone rang, it was a big deal,’ said Shoup’s daughter, Terri Van Keuren, 69, a retiree in Castle Rock, Colo. ‘It was the middle of the Cold War and that phone meant bad news.’

“Shoup was a commander of the Continental Air Defense Command, CONAD, the early iteration of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Then, as now, the joint U.S.-Canadian operation was the tense nerve center of America’s defensive shield against a sneak air attack. … It was not a place of fun and games. And when that red phone rang — it was wired directly to a four-star general at the Pentagon — things got real. All eyes would have been on Shoup when he answered.

“ ‘Col. Shoup,’ he barked. But there was silence.

“Until finally, a small voice said, ‘Is this Santa Claus?’ Shoup, by all accounts, was briefly confused and then fully annoyed. ‘Is this a joke? … Just what do you think you’re doing?’ he began.

“But then the techno-military might of the United States was brought up short by the sound of sniffles. Whoever was on the phone was crying, and Shoup suddenly realized it really was a child who was trying to reach Santa Claus.

“The colonel paused, considered and then responded:

‘ Ho, ho, ho!’ he said as his crew looked on astonished. ‘Of course this is Santa Claus. Have you been a good boy?’

“He talked to the local youngster for several minutes, hearing his wishes for toys and treats and assuring him he would be there on Christmas Eve. Then the boy asked Santa to bring something nice for his mommy.

” ‘I will, I will,’ Santa-Shoup said. ‘In fact, could I speak to your mommy now?’

“The boy put his mother on the phone, and Shoup went back to business, crisply explaining to the woman just what facility their call had reached. …

“The woman asked Shoup to look at that day’s local newspaper. Specifically, at a Sears ad emblazoned with a big picture of Santa that invited kids to ‘Call me on my private phone, and I will talk to you personally any time day or night.’

“The number provided, ME 2-6681, went right to one of the most secure phones in the country.

” ‘They were off by one digit,’ said Van Keuren. ‘It was a typo.’

“When Shoup hung up, the phone rang again. He ordered his staff to answer each Santa call while he got on the (black) phone with AT&T to set up a new link to Washington. Let Sears have the old number, he told them.

“That might have been the end of it. But a few nights later, Shoup, as was his tradition, took his family to have Christmas Eve dinner with his on-duty troops. When they walked into the control center, he spotted a little image of a sleigh pulled by eight unregistered reindeer, coming over the top of the world. …

” ‘What’s that?’ the commanding officer asked.

“ ‘Just having a little fun Colonel,’ they answered, waiting for the blowup.

“Shoup pondered the offense as the team waited. Then he ordered someone to get the community relations officer. And soon Shoup was on the phone to a local radio station. CONAD had picked up unidentified incoming, possible North Pole origin, distinctly sleigh-shaped.

“The radio station ate it up, the networks got involved and an enduring tradition was born. This Christmas Eve marks the 63rd straight year that NORAD is publicly tracking Santa’s sleigh on its global rounds.” More here.

As a former copyeditor, I’d like to point out that typos matter. But as a grandma, I’ll add that sometimes a mistake can lead to something good.

Photo: ShareAmerica
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A story in today’s NY Times has some delightful pictures of Santas attending a premier Santa school. This year there is increased concern that kids’ expectations may be too high for straightened pocketbooks, and Santas need to know how to handle that.

Monica Davey writes, “Santas — including the 115 of them in this year’s graduating class of the Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School — must learn to swiftly size up families’ financial circumstances, gently scale back children’s Christmas gift requests and even how to answer the wish some say they have been hearing with more frequency — ‘Can you bring my parent a job?’ …

The Charles W. Howard Santa Claus School in Midland, Michigan, is considered the Harvard of Santa schools. And it takes a holistic approach not only to what a Santa needs to do for children but what he needs to do for himself. “Along with training in how to store your wig, how best to answer the questions of kindergartners and how to perform on your local cable access television station, a financial planner advised the Santas …  to open pension funds and contribute as much as possible to 401(k) retirement accounts. …

“Even with the economic downturn, not all the Christmas lists have grown shorter. Some children show up with elaborate printouts, cross-referenced spread sheets and clippings from catalogs. ‘I try to guide the children into not so unrealistic things, and I do tell them that Santa’s been cutting back too,’ said Tom Ruperd, of Caro, Mich.”

It’s at times like these that homemade gifts, family activities, and donations to worthy causes start to look like more reliable ways to have a good time.

Read more here.

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