I knew Walter Cronkite was going to die soon. Before the rash of celebrity deaths (McMahon, Fawcett, et al.), it was reported that he was gravely ill. And yet his pasing yesterday still saddens me.
For some reason, I always knew his birthday, November 4. I always how he felt when his 63rd birthday was the taking of the hostages in Iran.
I was aware of his reporting during World War II. But my first recollection was watching him on a history program called The Twentieth Century, which was on from the time I was four to the time I was eleven; my, I was a geeky kid. I was an avid news watcher, pretty much alternating between Cronkite on CBS and Huntley-Brinkley on NBC, until Walter eventually won out.
I have some specific recollections. While I didn’t see the now-famous announcement of JFK’s death in real time – I was at school – I’ve seen the footage so often that I feel that I did. I was watching CBS News for wall-to-wall coverage of the aftermath (Oswald being shot, the JFK funeral).
When Cronkite went to Viet Nam in early 1968, then came back and declared in an editorial on February 27 that the war “unwinable, LBJ knew he was sunk and declared his decision not to run for re-election a little more than a month later. It, along with Martin Luther King’s opposition to the war, also had a profound effect on my own view of the conflict, which, when I was 14, was vaguely, “It’s an American war and I’m an American”; by the time I was 15, this changed to “What ARE we fighting for?” Speaking of King, it was from Cronkite that I heard the awful news of April 4, 1968.
Cronkite was a great cheerleader for space exploration. I must admit not being totally sold on it. But his enthusiasm for it, which won him NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration Award three years ago, was so infectious that I was almost as excited as he with each new launch.
He was a hoot playing himself on the Mary Tyler Moore Show in February 1974.
After he retired as anchor in 1981, I always made a point of watching him in documentaries. Until recently, he was also host of the Kennedy Center Honors.
In this rash of celebrity deaths, I heard a lot about how people should feel a certain way because they didn’t “know” them personally. (Did we “know” JFK or King? Yet we mourned.) When you’ve let someone into your home through television (or music or whatever), you do feel that you’ve “known” them. Having let Walter Cronkite into my home for almost my entire life, now that I think of it, and in ways of great impact, I mourn his loss.