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Friday, July 17, 2009

Remembering Walter Cronkite

In a state museum, tucked into a dusty corner of Southern New Mexico, there is a three-dimensional model of the light-side of the moon. I have stood beneath that model, and marveled at the fact that one of the greatest journalists who ever lived, sat in front of that sphere and delivered the news that millions waited for.

The world truly stood still when Americans stepped onto the surface of the moon, and Walter Cronkite delivered the news to everyone here on Earth, July 20, 1969. I don’t remember the day it aired. I was too young.

Cronkite flew into Normandy on a glider with 101st Airborne troops. Many of those gliders were launched from RAF Greenham Common, U.K., where I was stationed after its’ reactivation in the 1980s. He covered the Battle of the Bulge and the Nuremburg Trials. By all accounts he was the top reporter in WWII. He was one of only eight newsmen to fly bombing raids in B-17s during the war.

But history wasn’t even getting started with him

He covered the ’52 National Conventions, and was given the title “anchor.” It was the first time the term was ever used to describe a news reporter and it has been used ever since. He covered the Cuban Missile Crisis, Vietnam, the Iran Hostage Crisis and Watergate. He is remembered for breaking the news of the death of a president. He became involved with the ASU journalism program, which was named after him. Annually a leading journalist is presented with the coveted Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence. He interviewed statesmen and was himself a statesman.

But of course, there is that dusty model of the moon’s surface, housed in the New Mexico Museum of Space History. That was his backdrop for many of the moon shots, including the fateful Apollo 13 mission. He loved the space program and covered it from the very beginning.

In fact, if you consider 20th Century American history, you really can’t do it without considering Cronkite.

He left the air in 1981, saying in part in his farewell statement, “ Old anchormen you see, don’t fade away; they just keep coming back for more.” And Walter Cronkite did. He received the Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States upon his retirement – three years before I decided to join the Air Force, was sent to the Defense Information School, and become a military journalist.

Today Cronkite died, and I think it is important to take a moment to reflect on everything his life and works touched and influenced. I have had the good fortune to live in a time when such a man lived. I have been lucky to see how a real reporter did the job. Nobody ever replaced him – not really.

And that’s the way it is.

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