The Colonel Who Saved Christmas

“Yes, I am.”

With those three words back  in 1955, Colonel Harry Shoup saved Christmas.

Col. Harry Shoup

Col. Harry Shoup

At the time, Shoup was the Director of Operations at what was then called the Continental Air Defense Command in Colorado  Springs. It’s since been renamed the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and its primary job is to track airplanes, missiles, space vehicles, and anything in the air around our continent.

Well, Shoup was on his  post guarding the nation one December morning when the red phone rang. Side note here, I always loved the fact that back then the really important phone was a red one. There was no confirmation though on whether it was kept inside a modified cake dish like in the Batman tv series of the 1970’s.

Anyhow, Shoup knew when that phone rang, it was either the Pentagon or the general in charge on the other end. Either way, it meant a crisp and formal, “Yes sir” upon answering. However the voice he heard on the other end in December 1955, after a pause, was that of a little girl asking him “Are you Santa Claus?”

He looked angrily around the room to see if any of his subordinates were playing a joke on him because he didn’t “stand for that stuff,” but all he saw in return were blank stares and dedicated servicemen.

So, in a moment that has defined history, Colonel Harry Shoup said to the little girl, “Yes, I am. Have you been a good little girl?”

This was the actual ad which appeared in the Colorado Springs newspaper.

Similar conversations happened continuously all morning long with little girls and boys calling the hotline, the red  phone, and wanting to talk to Santa. One little boy was so excited, he started reading off his wish list before even saying hello.

Apparently, a local Sears Roebuck dealer had placed an ad in the Colorado Springs newspaper encouraging “Kiddies” to call Santa direct. However, instead of the store number, it went straight through to one of the most private phones in the United States in 1955.

I had the good fortune to interview Col. Shoup a number of years back when I worked in Denver and he loved this time of year. He loved recalling that story and the joy he heard on the other end of the phone each time he answered that fateful morning.


Of course, he had no way of knowing at the time what NORAD’s Santa Tracker would become. It’s now a website translated into multiple languages and registering millions of hits each December, tracking Santa Claus. It’s actually a lot of fun for kids and teaches a good amount about geography in the process.

And it all happened because one man had the good sense to say to a little girl, “Yes, I am.” He passed away in 2009, at the age of 92, fully aware of the impact he had made.

It’s not a bad story to remember these days about the impact you can have if someone asks you for help and you answer, as Harry Shoup did, in the affirmative.