When the dreaded red phone rang inside the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) operations centre on the last day of November in 1955, the mood at the nerve centre 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.
“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?”