The Alaska Air National Guard has been putting smiles on faces from Savoonga to Ruby to Barrow at Christmas time for 59 years. Its Operation Santa Claus program, which delivers gifts and goods to many Alaska villages, began in 1956 after the Guard received a request from St. Mary’s Mission for toys for their children.
Guardsmen heeded the call for this Yup’ik Eskimo village, located about 90 air miles north of Bethel. They asked for donations of new and used toys from the residents of Anchorage and were humbled by the generosity of the community.
A few weeks before Christmas, Santa Claus and all the gifts were loaded aboard an Air Guard C-123 airplane. Upon arrival at the tiny Southwest Alaska village, Santa and the airmen were greeted with loud cheers and huge smiles.
This was the first time many of the children had seen Santa Claus in person. Some eagerly climbed onto his lap and whispered their wishes into his ear. Others were too shy and didn’t know what to make of this jolly old man dressed in red.
Santa then passed out presents and enjoyed a small snack while watching the village’s basketball team handily defeat the Air Guard all-stars.
Operation Santa Claus was such a success, that it continued its flights with gifts to the children of St. Mary’s into the early 1980s. It added more stops when other villages, schools and groups invited Santa into their communities. Operation Santa became a joint mission between the Air and Army National Guard, and to date has served tens of thousands of Alaska’s children, according to the Guard’s Website.
Santa traded in the C-123, though, and now relies on the sturdy C-130 Hercules to carry him and his presents, books and school supplies to villages across Alaska. He also has help sometimes from National Guard members who deliver gifts to youth and elders with a Blackhawk helicopter.
There was a rumor going around that Santa’s reindeer get a bit jealous because they are not invited on these grand adventures, but that story has not been verified. I’m thinking they probably don’t, however, as they stay busy enough eating lots of lichen and resting so they will have the energy needed to haul the big guy and his sleigh all over the world on Christmas Eve.
Ho, Ho, Ho – Merry Christmas to all from Aunt Phil’s Trunk!