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Ask Anything: 10 questions with former WRAL Anchor Charlie Gaddy

Former WRAL anchor Charlie Gaddy answers your questions about his most memorable stories, what he misses most and why he says "Camp luh-JERN."

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Charlie Gaddy
I would like to know three things – A) What was the biggest story he ever covered, B) What story meant the most to him and C) What story would he have liked to cover the most? – William, Clayton

Dear William: This may be more of an answer than you want, but it is difficult to select just one in each of your categories. Among the biggest are: the tornado that ripped into Raleigh the night of Nov. 28, 1988, killing two and leaving many of our people homeless. Jay Jennings was the photographer. And the 50th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy. The photographer was Richard Adkins.

As to which story meant the most, the two that come to mind, both involving the military, are the D-Day commemoration and the build-up to the first Gulf War in Saudi Arabia.

A) The D-Day event occurred just before my retirement and was one of the most emotional stories I covered. Our WWII heroes are mostly in their 80s now and dying at an accelerated rate. In 1994, many of them returned to those beaches for the first time since they were young and strong and sacrificing themselves on Omaha Beach with such courage and sense of purpose that reporters on the scene said the surf was read with blood.

In June 1994, they came back … rolling in on tour buses to the cheers and tears of the French people. We saw young fathers with their children on their shoulders, waving American flags, old people waving and weeping. So the old men who came back to Normandy after 50 years will die with memories of the cheers. They have not been forgotten.

Richard and I were working in the little town of Ste. Mere Eglise, which is where the 82 Airborne troops from Fort Bragg jumped into the dark night 50 years before. I found out that a woman who was a teen then and had vivid memories of that night lived on the outskirts of town. She agreed to do an interview with me and this is the story she shared: She was awakened before daylight that night by gunfire and shouting. She ran to her window to see American paratroopers landing in her yard. She told me she dropped to her knees to give thanks because she realized that the Americans had come to liberate them after four years of German occupation. As she recalled the night 50 years before, her eyes filled with tears. So did mine.

Side story: As part of the commemoration, the present-day 82and Airborne parachuted in on the outskirts of Ste. Mere Eglise and marched into the town square. Richard Adkins and I were waiting along with thousands of people from all over the world. The streets were so clogged that it reminded me of the midway at the N.C. State Fair. I was puzzled as to how those streets could possibly be cleared for the 82nd Division to march in. We could hear the band approaching in the distance. The answer came soon. Suddenly, people began to scramble for the sidewalks and shops. We still couldn’t see what was causing the panic until the force rounded the corner. Six gendarmes mounted on huge horses prancing sideways were literally sweeping the people away. Three in front followed by three more. No one got trampled. But only a fool would stand in the way of those specially trained animals and their riders. Right behind the horses came the division band followed by the troops. It was truly a spectacular sight.
B) During the build-up for the first Gulf War, I had a chance to get to Saudi Arabia with photographer Art Howard. (I mention names of my photographers on these stories because they are the unsung heroes in our business.) For a short time, we lived in the desert with the troops and had an opportunity to talk with the military youth of today (N.C. National Guard) and an all-volunteer force with as much commitment to duty and just as courageous as any generation of American fighting forces.
Side story: There are so many things that happen on a news assignment that there is not time to share on a newscast. This is one of them.

As Art and I waited that night in what is called the green ramp at Fort Bragg before leaving for Saudi Arabia, we were told that it would be at least an hour before we took off. The young troops rushed for the various telephone booths. I was walking around to stretch my legs when I passed a phone booth to hear a soldier say, “Don’t worry, Mama, Charlie Gaddy will be on my plane.” He was trying to convince his mother that if I were on board, surely nothing could happen. I was touched that the young man had a frightened mom on the line and was grabbing at straws in making the best pitch he could to comfort her.

C) The last part of your question: The two that pop in my mind occurred after my retirement. I would like to have helped cover Hurricane Fran. We TV people are never happy about stories of destruction, but we do like the challenge of covering such a massive event. And … since I had covered two previous presidential inaugurations, I would like to have been in Washington in January 2009.

Having pointed out the two stories above, I hasted to add the two longest running stories that had tremendous impact on North Carolina since I have been in Raleigh. They are, at least in my opinion, the integration of the public schools and public accommodations, and on the political scene … the rise of the N.C. Republican Party.

Charlie, what is the biggest part of WRAL you miss? Enjoy your life, you did a good job and you are missed! – Monica, Bunn

Dear Monica, thank you for your question and the kind words. There is a palpable energy in a newsroom every day that one gets addicted to. It makes a work week fly. I also miss the young people behind the scenes that I was privileged to work with. As I got older, they just got younger. I miss hitting that wall of young energy I encountered every day. I loved them all and still maintain some contact with them. A news organization cannot sustain itself without youth. They were quite wonderful. I don’t miss appearing on TV. I did that twice a day for two decades. That’s enough.

How do you like all the new technology in the news media? – Monica, Bunn

My overall answer to your question is that the new technology is exciting. I was talking recently with Rick Gall, WRAL’s news director, who explained that the news is streamed right on to the Web site as soon as it happens. Reporters call in developments in a story and it is edited by one of six web news journalists and filed online. The young woman who asked me to participate in these viewer questions is Kelly Hinchcliffe who is in charge of this feature. Kelly is one of the web editors.

What was it like to cover the Raleigh tornadoes in the 1980s? I remember Charlie standing outside a demolished building reporting the day after it happened. – (no name given), Morrisville

Dear viewer from Morrisville, one of the most heart-rending stories you can cover is the aftermath of a tornado. Try to imagine sitting in your own home right now with your family and belongings and all the things you hold dear when out of the sky dives a black spiral and in no more than a few seconds everything you had is gone.

Side story: Some of you may remember the strange weather leading up to the tornado. Though it was late November, the temperature was more like a day in April. I had been raking leaves that afternoon in my short sleeves. As the night came on, so did the build up of violent electrical storms … there was so much lightning that the skies were in a state of constant flickering and flashing. Shortly after midnight, while I was sitting on the den rug trying to comfort our dog, Buster, who was terrified of storms, the phone rang. It was a friend of mine, Lee Gupton, a scanner freak who kept several monitoring all the time in his home. He said, “All hell has broken loose in north Raleigh, and it sounds like a tornado!” I called news director Connie Howard who said she would send a photographer to my house. In just a few minutes, the superstar photographer Jay Jennings drove up. We took off to Townridge Shopping Center where buildings had been flattened and that’s where our coverage began.
I always am glad to see you doing stories and such for WRAL! I grew up watching you and was sad when you retired! I really loved the newscast you, Bobbi, and Bob did in 2006. I would love to see you on the air again filling in. Would you ever consider it once in a while? Not that I don't enjoy the gang currently on TV, there's just something special about seeing you on TV! Thanks! – Jennifer Kirk, Raleigh

Dear Jennifer, thank you for the kind words and for watching us through the years.

TV news is a team sport and I was very fortunate to be part of a special group. Bobbie Battista and I were among the first male-female anchor teams. (I believe the first in the market.) She boosted the ratings. Her impact was such that she went on to become a superstar at CNN and an international sensation in some European countries. After all these years, people still ask me about her. It was a joy to see her for our 2006 reunion newscast. As you saw, she still has her clout. It was fun to sit beside her again and present one more newscast. She was amazing.

Add to the mix weatherman Bob DeBardelaben, one of the country’s strongest and most beloved. Formerly and old radio pro, he has one of the best voices in the business. Add to that his friendly and charismatic approach and you have a winner.

Tom Suiter provided the hottest sportscast in the business and worked every day until just recently.

After Bobbie came other strong, professional co-anchors: Donna, Adele, Pam and Debra. Following Bob was Greg Fishel, an icon in his own right.

At one time, our one-hour newscast was the highest-rated local news program in America. I don’t say that with any arrogance, but we were very proud of that. The reason for our success must go to owner James F. “Jim” Goodmon who long ago charged us with becoming one of the best stations in the nation. He is the heart and soul of our operation. It was he who put together these anchor teams, management teams and provided the best equipment in the industry … so we had no excuses.

As far as “filling in once in a while,” I think not. It would only be confusing. Besides … David Crabtree is better than I am.

Was the Gaddy family from N.C.? I'm always interested in native North Carolinians. Looking back, do you regret retiring so soon? Did you enjoy the reunion special as much as we did? Love and miss you. P.S. - Walter Cronkite "aint got nuttin on you.” – Denise Hughes, Nashville

Dear Denise, the answer is yes. All of the Gaddys, wherever your find them, originally came from Scotland. My ancestors settled in Anson County, N.C., just on the border of South Carolina.

I am Charles Reece Gaddy, the elder son of Charlie Frison Gaddy of Biscoe, N.C., and the grandson of Holden G. Gaddy, an Anson County farmer.

I believe I covered your question about the reunion newscast in the above answer, and I thank you for the kind words.

Since your retirement, I understand you have been very involved in community work. Can you tell us about the programs you support and how they inspire you? – Jill, Fuquay-Varina

Dear Jill, I have been a volunteer for United Cerebral palsy of North Carolina ever since my station got me involved in its annual fundraising telethons. UCP has now joined with Easter Seals, and I do what I can to help raise funds and be a general cheerleader for them. I was honored to have the child development center on Chapanoke Drive in Raleigh named for me. The center takes children from infancy to 5 years old who have a variety of challenges. A dedicated and passionate staff works to provide the very best therapy and teaching for them. I just attended the graduation of the 5-year-olds and their joy and confidence in the future always inspires me because these kids will now go to public school in the fall. And I must say that seeing a 5-year-old in a cap and gown will touch your heart.

Other interests: I am past vice-chair of the Duke Eye Center advisory board. Nancy and I were on the board during the fundraising for the new Albert Eye Institute on the Duke campus. My interest in a medical facility dedicated to saving sight goes back to my childhood when my father was diagnosed with glaucoma, which in those days usually meant eventual blindness. He lost most of his sight.

I am constantly inspired by the dedicated physicians and researchers who are so passionate about saving the sight of children and adults.

Side story: I inherited glaucoma from my father … so did my sister. She and I, along with hundreds of others, are taking part in a study of the genetic link to that eye disease.
Charlie always said "Camp Le-jurn" but everyone else says "Le-june" -- what's the story behind the difference? Which is "right"? – Pat, Chicago

Dear Pat, thank you for the question. The crux of the story is simple. A person’s name can only be properly pronounced one way … the way the person says it. But I’ll share the details.

When I came to Raleigh in 1960 to work as a staff announcer at WPTF Radio, an old program director named Graham Poyner sat me down to go over some pronunciations that might be tricky. He was a stickler for correctness and I’m glad he was. On his list was Camp Lejeune. It was luh-JERN, not luh-JUNE.

When I went over to television in 1970, I naturally carried that pronunciation with me. Every time I used it in the news I got letters, threats from marines and side glances from my co-workers. Then I decided to research the story.

The famous Marine base is named for Lt. General John Archer Lejeune, a highly decorated hero of World War I, the first commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and later the commandant of Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. When I contacted VWI, they told me that a daughter of the famous general was still alive and lived near the campus. I contacted her and she agreed to do an interview. I got permission to take our helicopter to VMI for the story. On Dec. 8, 1983, pilot Mike Allen, photographer Bruce Wittman and I flew to the beautiful campus in the Virginia mountains and went to the home of Ms. Lejeune. (I think her first name was Laura.) My very first question was “How do you pronounce your name?” The old lady smiled and in her soft voice replied “luh-JERN.” When I told her that Peter Jennings (we were ABC at the time) and all the network and local anchors and reporters called the name luh-JUNE or luh-ZHUNE, she just smiled and repeated “luh-JERN.”

The people at VMI were very helpful and seemed happy that we were doing the story, They gave me a copy of a handout they gave to the press indicating the last syllable of the name rhymed with the word “urn.”

We put the story together and aired it, wrongly thinking it would put an end to the controversy. Not so. When a story came up involving the base, as they often do, the reactions were still the same. I was accused of just trying to “fancy up” the name. The outcry was “everybody says Camp luh-JUNE.” My crusade fell on deaf ears.

Why should we desecrate the name of an American hero and his descendants by mispronouncing the name? It’s an insult. It is just as easy to say luh-JERN as it is to say luh-JUNE.

In a recent story by Martha Quillin of the Raleigh News & Observer, a retired Marine named Patrick Brent has arrived from his home in Hawaii to urge Marine public affairs officers and reporters to call the man what he called himself. It will be interesting to see what happens.

In Marine history, Lejeune has been called “the greatest Leatherneck of them all.”

I hope Patrick Brent has better luck than I. Semper Fi!

Side story: The general's daughter told me this story she remembered from her childhood: In a WWI victory parade down Broadway, her father was leading his marching Marines on horseback. The little girl was watching from a reviewing stand with her mother. As the general and his mount approached, a woman on the sidewalk ran out into the street with a bouquet of flowers. It spooked the horse, which reared and nearly threw the general before he could regain control of the animal.
I remember you singing with my dad, James Austin, and others for a WRAL special a long time ago. Are you still singing any? (Bill Leslie is not the first musical anchor) – Phil, Cary

Dear Phil, I remember your good father James very well and yes, we did produce a music special about 35 years ago. Music has been one of the joys in my life since childhood. Everyone in my family sang. My parents bought us a second-hand upright piano, which my sister played. I played trumpet in the school band. When my mother was young, she was a church soloist. My sister Joann holds a music degree. For a time, she and I performed a little musical act that we presented to some civic clubs and colleges. The talented man who played piano for us and composed the arrangements was the late Roy Palmer of Raleigh.

A short time after that TV special, I moved into the news department and stopped singing in public. I now just sing for my own amazement in the shower.

I lived in Cary and Wilmington when we so enjoyed your news and I will say same to you that I said to my hubby. You retired too young. You have not aged a bit. How do you stay so young looking? Nice to see you here. – Lois, Lynchburg, Va.

Thank you, Lois, for the kind words. So far, I have been blessed with excellent health for which I am most thankful. Glad you think I am still “young looking,” but please don’t look too closely. An old friend of mine once said he looked better on radio than TV. I think I do, too.

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