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The Keeper Of The Statue

The Man Who's In Love With A 31-Ton Lady

Keeper Of The Statue

(New York) Meet a man who keeps the light of liberty alive in this country, not just on the Fourth of July, but all year round.

Mr. Charlie Deleo: You know, you can't beat this early in the morning, Harry, because it's awe-inspiring.

Smith: Every day for 25 years, Charlie Deleo has taken a ferry across New York Harbor to go to work. It's not just a job he's headed for; it is the love of his life.

Mr. Deleo: Lady Liberty. That's it. I never get tired of the lady after all these years.

Smith: Charlie Deleo is one of those rare people who believes he was born, destined even, to do what he does.

So let me get this straight. You go to Vietnam...

Mr. Deleo: Right.

Smith: get hit with shrapnel...

Mr. Deleo: Right.

Smith: ...from a mortar fire...

Mr. Deleo: Right. Right.

Smith: ...get a Purple Heart...

Mr. Deleo: Right.

Smith: ...and the first thing you do when you come back to the United States is come here.

Mr. Deleo: See the Statue of Liberty. Yeah.

Smith: With the skill and strength of a gymnast, Charlie climbs the girders and rigging that hold Liberty together. He inspects for debris and changes the lightbulbs.

It is dangerous, backbreaking work that must be performed when the statue is empty. Charlie knows every handhold and every wrinkle in the 31 tons of copper that stand for America's independence and freedom.

Mr. Deleo: From the interior sandal straight up till you get to the torch, that's 101 feet. If you can master that, you got it. All's you need is the grace of God and a lot of nerve.

Smith: So this is the top, huh?

Mr. Deleo: This is as high as the visitor can go. This is the crown.

Smith: The windows in Liberty's crown have been locked for years, but Charlie has a key.

Let's pop her open. Oh, this is great: Staten Island and New Jersey, Lower Manhattan...

Mr. Deleo: I never get tired of the view. It's just so tremendous.

Smith: The view of the torch from here is really spectacular.

Visitors haven't been allowed in the torch since 1916. Charlie, though, is a regular. He makes sure the old flame stays lit.

Mr. Deleo: I love being up in the torch. It's like a prayer chapel.

Smith: He thinks of this place as sacred.

Mr. Deleo: I feel close to God, and I ask God to bless all nations; not only America, but all nations that want democracy and freedom, too.

Smith: For Charlie, liberty and freedom are more than mere ideas. They are living things that require care and nurturing.

Smith: Is this statue alive?

Mr. Deleo: I think her spirit is alive, and I believe my spirit and my soul and her soul are entwined.

Unidentified Man #1: Watch your step.

Smith: Millions come every year to get as close as they can to the statue, to feel her power.

Unidentified Man #2: Good morning, Charlie. How you doin today?

Smith: Charlie knows its source. His thousands of hours inside have helped the old Marine understand what the statue stands for.

Mr. Deleo: Well, I've seen what war can do and nobody wins in a war. But the only thing worse than war is slavery. And as long as Lady Liberty is standing on her perch, her pedestal, we're free.

Smith: And as long as Charlie's on the job, the rest of us will be sure to see freedom's light. Harry Smith, CBS News, New York.

First aired on the CBS Evening News

July 04,1997

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