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Old 2019-12-23, 20:57   #496
Dr Sardonicus
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Feb 2017

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Originally Posted by ewmayer View Post
Perhaps all those Defense Department supercomputers which are normally secretly repurposed to searching for the next holiday prime around this time of year are unavailable this year, thanks to an unfortunate typo:

NORAD Tracking Satan for the Holidays due to Typo | Duffel Blog
Seems fitting. The whole "tracking Santa" thing began with a typo. As this fair-use excerpt of a Washington Post story tells it,

A child calling Santa reached NORAD instead. Christmas Eve was never the same.

The military's famous Santa Tracker began with a wrong number

By Steve Hendrix

December 24, 2018 at 10:15 PM EST

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. In 1955, the command center was filled with a massive map of North America on plexiglass, behind which backward-writing technicians on scaffolds marked every suspect radar blip in grease pencil.

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?" Glaring at the wide-eyed staff for any sign of a smile, he let the caller have it with all the indignity of a bird-colonel who brooked no nonsense on this most vital of all phone lines.

"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.

"He said later he thought she must have been a military wife," said Van Keuren. "She was properly cowed."

But she also had an explanation. 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.

Van Keuren was only 6 at the time, but the exchange that followed became stuff of both family and Air Force legend.

"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.
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