Most everybody has discovered the amazing NORAD Tracks Santa website. Or cellphone app. Or Twitter feed. But just how did the North American Aerospace Defense Command get started on their yearly track of the Man in Red? Seems to me like they would have more important things to do.
It all started in December 24, 1955, when NORAD was still CONAD, the Colorado Springs’ Continental Air Defense Command, and Sears made a big mistake. Seems that Sears got in touch with Santa, and got his permission to publish his personal phone number so that kids could call in and talk with him. The problem was, when they published the phone number in a newspaper ad, they published the wrong number. As it turns out, the wrong number for Santa was the right number for CONAD.
On duty that night at CONAD was Colonel Harry Shoup, USAF, and when the calls for Santa started rolling in, Colonel Shoup didn’t miss a beat. Sure, the kids couldn’t talk to Santa that night, but the Colonel and his team were able to look up Santa’s location on radar and let all the children calling in know where Santa was.
Fast forward to present day, and CONAD is now NORAD, Colonel Shoup has passed away, and volunteers now handle 12,000 emails, 70,000 phone calls from all over the world, and tweets to over 100,000 followers on Christmas Eve.
Did CONAD have more important things to do on December 24, 1955? Probably, but does the story of what Colonel Shoup did really surprise you from a member of our military? Like many stories from the armed forces, it is at the same time both astonishing and expected, run-of-the-mill and ground-shaking. We find what they do astounding, yet we understand it is simply just what they do.
Through the course of this year, I have thanked many members of military, active and retired, but today I have one very special thank you for Colonel Harry Shoup, USAF (b. September 29, 1917, d. March 14, 2009).
Thank you, Colonel Shoup, not only for your service to this country, but for answering the phone one night and telling a little girl where Santa was. And Merry Christmas.
NORAD Tracks Santa