TopVet: Chuck Scarborough

Chuck Scarborough

Chuck Pilot
Scarborough, who holds a commercial pilot’s
license, strapping in to fly with the U.S. Navy’s
Blue Angels demonstration team.

Air Force Veteran Chuck Scarborough is one of the most experienced and successful journalists in the country. Over five decades, both in New York City and nationally, he's earned a total of 36 Emmys. Importantly, he credits his military service for the skills, education, and discipline to break into and achieve a remarkable career that continues today.

"Serving your country will help you the rest of your life," he told Veterans Advantage in an exclusive interview. "At the time I thought I was serving my country, but in fact my country served me."

The son of a World War II Army Air Corps veteran who later worked at General Electric, Chuck grew fascinated with aviation through his father's service. He recalls his father being shot down in enemy territory and given up for lost as a MIA. Yet, fortunately, his dad was rescued from friendly forces in Yugoslavia and returned to fly more than 20 additional combat missions in Europe, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, for his heroism and extraordinary achievement.

The World War III Military ID for Chuck Scarborough's father,from the U.S. War Department.
The World War II Military ID for Chuck
Scarborough's father, from the U.S. War Department.

"I was destined to serve in the Air Force. I did not consider any other branch other than the Air Force, simply because my father had been there," he said about his father's service in the Army Air Corps, the predecessor to what became the U.S. Air Force.

By the time he was 17, Scarborough had enlisted in the Air Force, initially as an escape from his parents’ divorce and his own personal period of “self-absorption”, but when he reported for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Scarborough was instantly hooked on the meaning of service.

“It was a profound moment. When you are sworn in to serve your nation, you raise your right hand and put everything on the line,” he said, recalling the base commander greeting the new recruits by declaring, 'If any man is not ready to die right now for his country, he can leave right now.'”

“It drove home the point that we had gone from our own universe of self-absorption and teenagery to doing something larger and placing a pretty big bet on our futures to serve a larger cause and wear the uniform of the United States military. It was irrevocable. There was no honorable way out.”

 Scarborough's first job at WLOX in Mississippi.
 Scarborough's first job at WLOX in Mississippi (seated, center).

While the world in 1960 seemed safer before the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, the realities of the Cold War were hitting home. The Soviet Union had jumped ahead of the U.S. in the space race, and the race for nuclear superiority was heating up at an alarming rate.

With a high aptitude for math and science, Scarborough was sent to Keesler AFB in Mississippi and selected to join a five-man team to train on the secret guidance system for our first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The Atlas SM65D, as it was called, could hold a single nuclear warhead. “It was the only thing we had that was reliable at the time,” he said.

Coincidentally, as fate would have it, that time of national threat was also a time for personal growth. After Scarborough finished his ICBM training, he was tapped for instructor duty and began augmenting his classroom lessons with educational television produced in a studio on the base.

After his discharge from the Air Force, Scarborough found his first professional opportunity. It was right in his backyard. A brand new TV station (WLOX-TV), an ABC affiliate, had just started and was desperate for leadership expertise to help get the operation off the ground. Scarborough was quickly promoted to Production Manager, taking charge of all on-air operations and building a news department. At the same time, thanks to the GI Bill, he enrolled in the University of Southern Mississippi, graduating Summa Cum Laude and earning membership in the exclusive collegiate honor society, Phi Kappa Phi.

A few assignments later, he found the opportunity of a lifetime in New York City with WNBC-TV, the struggling flagship station of the National Broadcasting Company. He soon initiated the top-rated two-hour news show, "Live at Five," which set the stage for much of the afternoon news and talk programming that has flourished ever since.

 Scarborough new on the set at WNBC in New York, 1974.
 Scarborough new on the set at WNBC in
New York, 1974.

"This was pre-Oprah, pre-everything," he said about the afternoon news/interview show format of "Live at Five." The unique format began with live afternoon on-the-set interviews with authors, local and national celebrities, sports stars and government officials, followed by the second hour of more traditional news programming, where Scarborough also held the anchor chair.

He has occupied the anchor chair ever since.

The military and our veterans have always been a critical part of what Scarborough covers as a journalist. Even dating back to the 1980s, when New York City held the historic "Welcome Home" parade for our nation's Vietnam War veterans, Scarborough interviewed Scott Higgins, Veterans Advantage CEO and the co-chairman of the commission which staged the parade. He has also covered war, aviation and national security news from datelines in Europe, Russia, and the Middle East.

And it all started when he raised his right hand.

"After I got out of the service, I began to recognize how valuable those four years had been, how much of my character had been shaped by those four years in the military, how important it was. To make that commitment and learn about commitment, to wear the uniform, taking orders and giving orders, being organized, mission-oriented and all of the values you get from a personal standpoint."

Scarborough in his early New York City days at WNBC, 1978.
Scarborough in his early New York
City days at WNBC, 1978.

Scarborough has earned 36 local Emmy awards and was honored by the New York Chapter of Television Arts & Sciences with their 2014 "Governor's Award" as recognition of his long and distinguished career in journalism. Scarborough's work has also earned awards from the Associated Press, New York Press Club; the Aviation and Space Writers; the Washington Review of Journalism's Best in the Business; the Working Press Association; and the New York State Broadcasters Association. As a part of NBC 4's continuing coverage of Hurricane Sandy, Scarborough earned a National Emmy and the Edward R. Murrow award.

He has authored three novels, Stryker (1978), The Myrmidon Project (1980), and Aftershock (1991) and has written articles for publication in New York Magazine, Boston Magazine, and American Home Magazine.

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