November 22, 1963.
Americans of a that generation still vividly recall a clearly emotional Walter Cronkite, the anchorman for “The CBS Evening News” giving them the shocking news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on that dark Friday afternoon in 1963 when the eternally optimistic American people, lost their innocence and let the turbulent and violent sixties enter their psyche.
Born Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. on November 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Missouri, he moved as a young boy to Texas and eventually went to the University of Texas at Austin to study political science and journalism.
Joining the Houston Post as a young reporter without graduating college and also working as a sportscaster in Oklahoma City, Cronkite found himself in 1939 working for the United Press. The onset of the second World war saw him cover the war in Europe as part of the “Writing 69th,” a group of reporters covering the key aspects of the war like the D-Day invasion, the bombing missions over Germany and also the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals.
Legendary American journalist Edward R. Murrow successfully recruited Cronkite to join the medium of television at CBS News in 1950. It took him until 1963, when after years of working in various news shows and documentaries, he finally became the Managing Director of the “CBS Evening News” and his considerable influence over the content of the show improved its accuracy, depth and eventually, its ratings.
That year also saw Cronkite broadcast an extended interview with President Kennedy just months before his death. His thoroughly professional, but completely heartfelt coverage of the events of the assassination of the President, arguably the darkest day in the American history of the last century, won him considerable praise from not only Americans, but also the world at large.
1968 saw Cronkite report on not only the tragic assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, but also his now historic visit to Vietnam. His declaration on national television that the war in Vietnam was a bloody stalemate eventually led the then President, Lyndon Johnson to famously remark that loosing Cronkite meant loosing middle America.
He was also in the anchor chair to report on more happier events like the space race. “Go baby, go!,” said an enthusiastic Cronkite as Apollo XI took off in 1969 on its historic lunar landing. Staying on the air for 27 of the 30 hours of the Apollo XI moon mission, he performed what the critics called the “Walter to Walter” coverage of the landings.
Even though Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are rightly given the credit for breaking the Watergate scandal, the considerable credibility and influence of Cronkite meant that the story stayed in the public eye and eventually led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974.
Cronkite was married to Mary Elizabeth Maxwell ( 1916-2005) for more than six decades and had three children and four grandchildren. Opera singer, Joanna Simon was his constant companion in his later years.
He died on July 17, 2009, at his home in New York City, apparently of cerebral vascular disease.
Known affectionately as “Uncle Walter,” Cronkite was frequently considered as one of the most trusted men in America even after his retirement from the anchors role in 1981. He was the most important newsman in the country for most of his nearly twenty years as the anchor of the “CBS Evening News”.
He famously compared himself to being more like an old shoe to his audience during an interview about his retirement.
Cronkite said on March 6, 1981, his farewell broadcast: “Old anchormen, you see, don’t fade away, they just keep coming back for more. And that’s the way it is.”