Since World War I, Gunny Claus has delivered presents and smiles to families at Marine Corps bases, USOs and veterans’ hospitals across the map. Now affiliated with Toys for Tots, Gunny Claus is resuming a busy in-person schedule after seeing more than 3,000 children virtually for the past two years.
We spoke with Robert Porter, a retired Marine who is one of many that play the role of Gunny Claus, about what it’s like to play a Santa Claus-like figure in a military uniform.
How did Gunny Claus come about?
Santa’s elves are great at making toys, but logistically, they’re not the best. They left out Santa’s list, and Rudolf ate half of it. So Santa Claus was thinking, “I need to check this list, but who can help me? I know! I’ve got the Marine Corps. They’re in every place around the world, and who better to help check that list twice than Marines?”
So where does Gunny Claus live?
Troll Station, Antarctica. The boss has the North Pole; I take the South Pole.
What about a squadron?
1st Reindeer Division, Tactical Sled Group.
How has Gunny Claus changed since World War I?
One of the ways is the toys we distribute, and how we distribute them. Back then, they were simpler, like wooden log sets, block and dolls — nothing electronic. And they were mostly delivered by horse and buggy, or just a horse.
How are you different than Santa Claus?
Well, I’m not fat. And I’m on all the social media accounts. But like Santa Claus, I do get recognized sometimes, even though I’m not always in uniform.
How were you chosen?
I was helping at a Toys for Tots event in civilian clothes. For some reason, all of the kids were afraid of me. I felt like Krampus. I went on social media and was trying to figure out if I could get a Santa Claus uniform or something to help with that, and I saw a Vietnam veteran who was Gunny Claus down in South Carolina. I said, “That’s it!” He’s retired now, and I’m Gunny Claus.
What is the best part about being Gunny Claus?
Making Christmas possible for those who would not get Christmas otherwise.
Do you have any stories to share?
Near the Canadian border, it was getting late and really cold at an event. A family that had gotten there really early got pushed back in the crowd. Their daughter had received a Barbie doll, but she really wanted this nice trainset. I went over and said, “My daughter really wanted that Barbie, will you trade me for this trainset?” Her face lit up. It really made her Christmas.
What are you most looking forward to this holiday season?
Snow! I want a white Christmas.