Anne Rowland Gratz thought she was going on the daytime talk show "Anderson" last week to discuss life as an Army wife.
She was partly right.
"We are doing a big Thanksgiving surprise show," said the show's senior publicist, Jessica Fielder.
And Gratz was one of the surprises.
For 12 years she's been married to Sgt. 1st Class Luke Gratz, who is stationed at Fort Stewart, Ga., with the 385th Military Police Battalion. In May, he deployed for a year in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Anne, who grew up in West Ashley, and Luke, who is from Pittsburgh, met on Seabrook Island in the mid-1990s when she was working as a nanny and he as a lifeguard. They were married in 1999 and have three children -- Luke Jr., 11; Peyton, 6; and Jack, 1.
Anne has been active in the Army Wives Club, and "she thought she was going to the show to talk about what it's like when her husband goes to war," said her mother, Susie Peiffer, who still lives in West Ashley.
In July, Peiffer and her husband, Bob, avid tennis players, participated in the U.S. Tennis Association's Adopt-A-Unit effort, which sent portable tennis equipment to Gratz's unit while the Peiffers collected $3,000 worth of donated supplies for care packages.
"She thought maybe that was part of why they selected her," Peiffer said.
A camera crew visited Gratz's Richmond Hill, Ga., home on Nov. 11 to tape footage of her everyday life running a busy household by herself, and three days later, Peiffer, Gratz, and the children flew to New York City on an all-expenses-paid trip to tape the show. They stayed at the upscale Lucerne Hotel and rode in a chauffeured limousine.
"Even though the show tapes in the afternoon before a live studio audience, we had to be there at 11 in the morning for hair and makeup," Peiffer said. "When they were done, they put us in a room for two hours and told us to stay in there until they came to get us."
Eventually, they were brought to the stage. Anne was concerned about the behavior of her toddler son, so Peiffer stayed backstage with him for the beginning of the interview.
About halfway through, she took the boy to his mother then took her seat in the front row to watch the rest of the taping.
While her daughter was on stage recording a message for her husband, "I saw something out of the corner of my eye, and all of a sudden, there's Luke," she said. "I screamed. I don't know if I was supposed to, but I did, and when Anne turned around and saw him, she was totally surprised."
The show also featured chef Jamie Oliver cooking a Thanksgiving dinner, "Modern Family" star Eric Stonestreet talking about his Thanksgiving charity, and a school in the Bronx in need of help.
"It was Anderson Cooper's idea to do the show because he's such a big supporter of the military," Peiffer said. "His people called Army headquarters, and they picked a unit to zero in on, which was Fort Stewart. Then Fort Stewart picked a battalion, which was the 385th Military Police, and called that person and said, 'Can you pick four soldiers and we'll narrow it down to one?' It's so phenomenal that out of all the bases, they picked his. We know how incredibly lucky he is to have been chosen."
After the taping, Luke flew home with his family to spend two weeks of leave which were originally scheduled for January. The family quickly rescheduled a trip to Disney World originally planned for January and will arrive in Charleston on Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with Anne's grandmother, Ethel Nepveux of West Ashley, the Peiffers, and Anne's brother Earle Rowland of Summerville, his wife, Lee and their two children, Kiley and Brooke.
"Anne, Luke and the kids are such a close family and they miss him so much when he's gone," Peiffer said. "But Anne knows that when your spouse is in the military, you're in the military."
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or www.facebook.com/b.rindge.