Saturday, July 18, 2009

"And that's the way it is..."

With those words, another CBS nightly news broadcast ended, and so another lesson on what was really happening in the world. That is the way I viewed Walter Cronkite, who died yesterday at the age of 92. Cronkite was the definition of the "anchorman" as he served in that role from 1962 to 1981.

Cronkite however to me was my first professor. He taught me the essence of the world I was growing up in. As a young child, it was his coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing about 40 years ago that made me desire to be an astronaut. His pain-staking details in reporting the events leading up to the launch and his joy when Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the lunar surface could be felt and appreciated through that black-and white television screen at my Aunt Margie's house.

It was on Cronkite's watch that the assassinations of both Kennedys, Malcolm X and Dr. King took place. He covered U.S. Presidents from Truman to Reagan and is credited for turning the national mood on the Vietnam War after the bloody Tet Offensive. Watergate, the subsequent Nixon resignation and the Iran hostage crisis were all under his insightful tenure.

It is safe to say that the formative years of my life, the years I made up my mind that I wanted to be in public service, were shaped by Cronkite. Americans polled in 1972 said that Cronkite was "the most trusted man in America." I definitely would say "Amen" to that. I trusted him wholeheartedly, but it was easy for me because I was still an altruistic child. For adults, who naturally become more jaded with wisdom, to feel the same way speaks volumes about how sincere Cronkite came across.

His rivals in the business loved him. He was a devoted husband and a fun-loving man. He was an avid sailor and a pioneer in his profession. His life story is what America is all about and he had the privilege to tell the other stories about America every night for nineteen years.

I have missed him since 1981 and no one, except maybe Peter Jennings and Tom Brokaw, has even come close to his stature. He was the voice the nation needed to hear to make sense of the time that reshaped our nation after World War II. That alone makes him an icon in my book.

Of all of the notable people who have died over the last month, Cronkite was the one individual who shaped my life the most. I am glad to have grown up in a generation where "Uncle Walter" told us the way it was.