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ABC11's week of salutes to Larry Stogner

Larry Stogner shocked his colleagues and fans January 23 when he announced he's been diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease, which has forced him to give up his anchor chair.

"I'm sure that in recent months, you've noticed a change in my voice - my speech - slower," he explained.

Larry has anchored the 6 p.m. news at ABC11 continuously since 1982, making him one of the longest-serving anchors in the nation.

PHOTOS: Larry Stogner through the years

Since the announcement, he's been getting thousands of messages of support.

"It's really an emotional thing to see what people are writing," he said.

The messages are coming in by phone, email, Facebook, and Twitter.

"One woman said you raised me and taught me to appreciate the news," Larry said. "It is so overwhelming to know you had any kind of impact."

He even got a call from Governor McCrory.

VIDEO: Steve Daniels talks to Larry about what's ahead
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Every day this week we're going to feature special stories about Larry ending with a special broadcast Friday at 6 p.m.


"He called me and said he wanted Bobbi and me to come over to the mansion for dinner," said Larry. "That meant an enormous amount to me."

Larry says despite the changes to his voice he otherwise feels OK.

"Physically, I feel fine. I could go play 18-holes. Emotionally, it is one of the toughest things - you can't get away from it," he explained.

But he's keeping his head held high.

"I am fighting all the time not to project months and years down the line and to try to live each day as fully as I can," he explained. "Some people who have families with ALS will tell you that this is the worst part."

Larry's courageous and heartbreaking on-air announcement is sweeping the internet - touching people around the world in the Huffington Post, other TV networks, and even the London Daily Mail.

VIDEO: Larry announces his retirement
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Larry told viewers that he is suffering from ALS, and that is ending his broadcasting career.


A boy from Yanceyville makes good

Larry is a North Carolina Tar Heel through-and-through. He told ABC11's Tisha Powell this week that when he looks back on his childhood growing up in Yanceyville, only fond memories come to mind.

"It was a time of innocence. I loved growing up there. I was so glad I didn't grow up in a large town or big city. You knew where all your friends were. You could get up a baseball game in about 10 minutes," he said.

For years, Larry and his family lived in a small trailer behind his grandparent's home. His father Earl was abandoned as a baby, left on a doorstep and adopted by who would become Larry's grandparents. As an adult, he worked at a radio station.

"My father was a radio announcer," he said. "And I used to try to talk to him on the radio when he would be broadcasting. He was a disk jockey and he had record shows on the air."

But Larry said never imagined a career broadcasting for himself. In fact, he wanted to be a pharmacist after working at a drug store.

"I sort of found my way into this by watching a lot of TV news and taking the only broadcast journalism courses there were at that time, and it was very easy for me, and I did well," he explained.

VIDEO: Larry Stogner reflects on growing up in Yanceyville
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Every day this week we're going to feature special stories about Larry ending with a special broadcast Friday at 6 p.m.


"I have landed on aircraft carriers. I have flown F16's. I've gotten in the ring with lions - interviewed presidents - and for a boy from Yanceyville to do those things in a lifetime is unheard of. I'm very proud of the work I have done," he continued.

Now, with his career nearing an an end, he wants to go back to life the way it once was. As Larry would say - surrounded by lots of kin and lots of love.

"I couldn't do it without them. I told Bobbi the first weekend. I said I really need family around. It just makes everything else a little unimportant. I need to have family to look at and hug," he said.

His plans now? To spend as much time as possible with his wife Bobbi, their six children and seven grandchildren.

"Try to cram in as much living as I possibly can in the next months and years," he said.

Larry and his wife Bobbi are now planning vacations - enjoying life's pleasures one day at a time - while living with his ALS diagnosis.

Tour in Vietnam

In 1995 - 20 years after the fall of Saigon - Larry took us back to Vietnam - retracing the steps from his year in the war zone in 1968 - serving our country in the Air Force.

"It was just to show the legacy of a war that had gone wrong, not only for us, but for the Vietnamese people," Larry explained.

Larry's return to Vietnam was a poignant journey - helping create new memories of the place where he'd seen so many horrors.

"GIs like me were coming back to take another look at this place that had torn them up and they went back to find a totally different country," he said.

VIDEO: Larry Stogner reflects on serving in Vietnam
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Larry Stogner reflects on his deployment to Vietnam.


Throughout his career, Larry has worked hard to make sure Vietnam is not the forgotten war - doing things like keeping the lessons alive by lecturing to students at Millbrook High School in Raleigh.

"It was cathartic for me. I would come up with things that I had not even mentioned in the previous class," said Larry.

Larry always told the students about his darkest day in Vietnam - when the North Vietnamese Army launched rocket attacks on the Bien Hoa Air Base - part of the Tet offensive.

"You could feel concussions, flashes, just tried to make it out the door, to make it to these sandbag bunkers," Larry recalled.

To this day, Larry wonders why he survived when others did not.

"I can remember this friend of mine Jim DesRocher went left and I went right. His bunker was hit, he was killed and I wasn't touched," said Larry.

In 2012, Larry helped organize the homecoming celebration he and his fellow Vietnam veterans never had. Fifty thousand veterans gathered at the Charlotte Motor Speedway for a "Thank You" - nearly forty years overdue.

"The Vietnam war took a toll on a lot of soldiers who did return and who live with that war every day of their lives and how long has that war been over?" said Larry. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about it."

CHILDREN MADE THE BIGGEST IMPACT

As a journalist, Larry traveled the world on his many assignments and he says the people who made the biggest impression on him were often the smallest.

On each trip, he seemed to form a special bond with the children he met along the way. He said looking at them changed the way he looks at life.

Whether it was in a classroom here in America or a small village in Kandahar, Larry took the time to make a positive impact on children - trying to make that connection that bridges one generation to another.

"I'm always drawn to the kids and I think they're some of the neatest kids I've ever seen in Afghanistan," Larry recalled.

VIDEO: Children made the biggest impact on Larry during his career
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Larry said meeting children around the world changed the way he looks at life.


Larry traveled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 with the 82nd Airborne. While there, he was moved by a group of school children reading the Koran. He keeps their picture in a scrapbook along with several others to always remember that journey.

"I've got pictures with a number of kids in the villages. They would run up and they would want two things. They would want paper or a pen. That was their big item."

For Larry - regardless of where he would go - interacting with the local children always gave him perspective - a clearer understanding of what the people were going through - especially during his two visits to Haiti.

"In Haiti, they had just gone through the most devastating earthquake and they were putting together makeshift schools and I visited a couple of orphanages. Once again, I was drawn to the kids. I felt so sorry for them. They live in such poverty," he said.

But what Larry has gained from the children of the world is even more poignant now. It's the idea that you have to keep living in spite of your circumstances and find joy in what feels like the darkest of times.

"It just taught me how little some people have and can be happy with their lot. It gave me a whole new prospective on how we live here," said Larry.

This past summer, Larry traveled with his church on a mission trip to Kenya. Much of his time there was spent with the community's youth who he says he'll always remember.

"They're just so open - always smiling and they have almost nothing, but they'll give you half of whatever they have. So that was a life changing experience for me to go through that," said Larry. "There are pictures of me walking with them holding hands. They just ... they touch my heart."

POWER OF PRAYER

If you ask Larry about his most memorable interview - the one he's most proud of - he'll tell you without a doubt it's evangelist Billy Graham. And it wasn't easy to get either.

"We got stiff-armed a lot, but finally we just wore them down and they said look, Reverend Graham and Franklin are going to have a crusade - their first crusade together in Albuquerque, New Mexico," Larry recalled.

Once he was given the green light, Larry was on his way to the "Land of Enchantment".

"A producer and photographer and me jumped on a plane and went to Albuquerque, and we attended the crusade and then met Reverend Graham back in a room in The Pit at the University of New Mexico and did the interview - and that man could not have been any more gracious," said Larry.

The meeting was important to Larry as a journalist and also as a man of faith.

"It meant more to me than my interviews with George Bush or Barack Obama. Just being in that man's presence was awe inspiring to me," said Larry.

VIDEO: The power of prayer
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Larry says he's turning even more to his faith following his diagnosis


Having recently been diagnosed with ALS, Larry said he's turning to that faith now more than ever. He's also turning to the members of his church for support.

"It's a big church and total strangers coming up and wanting a hug - wanting to say how much they'll miss seeing me on the air - to keep up the good fight and to give me their prayers," said Larry.

Larry truly believes the power of prayer is what's going to get him through when times get hard. In his family, it's where they've always found strength and refuge.

"I have members of my family who have strong faith in prayer. And, I even have a friend who went with me to Kenya. I actually met him on the Kenya trip, and he is a prayer warrior and he and I will no doubt have a lot of meetings over the coming months and years," said Larry.

It's a time when he says he'll continue to lean on his faith and the countless prayers of others that he's so extremely grateful for.

"They are so welcome right now," said Larry.

VIDEO: What Larry means to ABC11
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A look at the impact Larry had on his ABC11 colleagues


Click here to read more about Larry's career

VIDEO: Larry Stogner career highlights
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North Carolina native, Vietnam veteran, Reporter's reporter - ABC11 salutes the Hall of Fame career of Larry Stogner.

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