Santa Claus gets all the ink at this time of year, but Harry Shoup should get his due.
Shoup, an Air Force colonel, was at the other end of a hotline from the Pentagon which was intended to provide the first notice that the United States was about to be attacked with nuclear weapons. What would happen next if it rang was decidedly unChristmaslike, of course.
It rang one day in 1955, Shoup’s children say in this week’s Story Corps episode. Harry picked up the phone. It was a kid.
“And dad realized that it wasn’t a joke,” her sister says. “So he talked to him, ho-ho-ho’ed and asked if he had been a good boy and, ‘May I talk to your mother?’ And the mother got on and said, ‘You haven’t seen the paper yet? There’s a phone number to call Santa. It’s in the Sears ad.’ Dad looked it up, and there it was, his red phone number. And they had children calling one after another, so he put a couple of airmen on the phones to act like Santa Claus.”
And that’s how NORAD’s Santa Tracker started.