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The Wrong Number That Launched the Santa Tracker

December 21, 2017 in History

By Christopher Klein

Air Force Lt. Col. David Hanson of Chicago taking a phone call from a child in Florida at the Santa Tracking Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs. (Credit: Ed Andrieski/AP Photo)

When the dreaded red phone rang inside the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) operations center on the last day of November in 1955, the mood at the nerve center of America’s nuclear defense grew nervous. At a time when the Cold War raged and Soviet fighter jets routinely buzzed dangerously close to Alaskan airspace, U.S. Air Force Colonel Harry Shoup knew that a call over the top-secret hotline wouldn’t be good news.

Anxious that the caller might be the president or a four-star general warning of an atomic attack on the United States, Shoup steeled himself as he answered the hotline that was directly wired from his command post in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to the

“Yes, sir, this is Colonel Shoup,” he answered in his finest military cadence. Met with only silence, he repeated, “Sir, this is Colonel Shoup.” Still nothing. “Sir, can you read me alright?” Shoup asked before he received a most unexpected reply from the soft voice of a child.

“Are you really Santa Claus?”

Shoup’s eyes immediately scanned the cavernous operations center. Who was the prankster? The deadly serious heart of America’s defense against aerial assault was hardly the venue for a practical joke, and the colonel was not amused.

“Would you repeat that, please?” Shoup barked. On the other end of the line, he heard the frightened youngster sobbing and realized this was no joke. Some mix-up had compromised the top-secret hotline. Rather than admitting he wasn’t Santa Claus, the 38-year-old father of four quickly assumed the part of St. Nick and listened to a Christmas wish list before asking to speak to the child’s mother.

The mother informed the colonel, who passed away in 2009, that her child had dialed the phone number listed in a Sears Roebuck advertisement in the local Colorado Springs newspaper. The advertisement featured an illustration of Santa Claus and an invitation to call him on his private phone any time day or night. There was a problem with that printed phone number, however.

“They had one digit wrong, and it was my father’s top-secret phone number,” Shoup’s daughter, Terri Van Keuren, recalls. “So now the phone is ringing off the hook.”

Air Force Lt. Col. David Hanson of Chicago taking a phone call from a child in Florida at the Santa Tracking Operations Center at Peterson Air Force Base near Colorado Springs. (Credit: Ed Andrieski/AP Photo)

Instead of reaching the Santa standing by at …read more

Source: HISTORY

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