By Amy Anderson
It was the Cold War, and according to legend, a man sat at a desk in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with two telephones on it — one a direct line to the Pentagon. It wasn’t a number in wide circulation, so when the phone rang on Christmas Eve of 1955, the Air Force colonel on duty at the Continental Air Defense Command center could be forgiven for his surprise at hearing a young child on the other end of the line ask: “Is this Santa Claus?”
Fortunately, Col. Harry Shoup, described by his children as “straight-laced and disciplined” in an NPR StoryCorp interview, was a good sport. After an initial bit of irritation, the colonel assumed the persona of Santa and chatted with the child, then spoke to the child’s mother. It turns out the very private number to the very important phone on his desk had been misprinted in a Sears ad alongside a photo of Santa Claus, enticing the kiddies to “Call me on my private phone.” Col. Shoup’s night was just beginning.
The man who would come to be known as “Colonel Santa” instructed some airmen to answer any additional calls, and instead of turning away from this typo, leaned directly into the storm. He contacted the local radio station and reported the current radar location of one very merry sleigh and the operator’s eight tiny reindeer.
So began the tradition still carried by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Today the operations center uses complicated satellite systems and powerful radar to track Santa’s progress around the world each Christmas Eve. A staff of 1,500 answer more than 140,000 calls and emails, and send updates by the minute to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. NORAD’s dedicated website, http://www.noradsanta.org, live-tracks Santa’s location and offers updates in seven languages so that eager children and weary parents alike can know with certainty when it’s time to go to bed!
To track Santa this year, visit http://www.noradsanta.org, or follow updates by searching for @noradsanta on social media. To speak to a volunteer, call the toll-free number 877-Hi NORAD (877-446-6723).
For more information about NORAD’s day-to-day job, visit http://www.norad.mil.
(c) 2018 King Features Syndicate, Inc.