This evening I heard the news of the death of Walter Cronkite, and like any famous person's passing, there was the immediate, 'oh wow'...but unlike other recent passings, such as Michael Jackson, surely an event in itself...this one has seemed to sink in deeper and deeper.
With each CNN tribute I watch, I come to realize that Cronkite was not just a TV news anchor, but an institution, a living historical landmark. An institution in the sense, that at 92, he was part of a generation that represented America at its zenith, the 'greatest generation', and he was their spokesman. A grandfatherly figure who was unbiased, neither conservative nor liberal...only fair, and honest...and quintessentially American.
When I was little, my parents always watched the evening news, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, and of course Walter Cronkite...I would sit with my mom, she'd be riveted to the news, I would say something and she'd give me a curt nod as if to say, "yes yes, just hush, I'm watching the news..."
I have a vague recollection of the JFK assasination, Cronkite kept taking his glasses off and putting them back on as he reported...seeing that again years later, you could tell he was clearly distraught, but his demeanor was steady and with a certain dignity.
His call sign was, "and that's the way it is..." And, like a true journalist he called it like he saw it. In 1968, he said Vietnam was a quagmire of a war, and the American people saw it too...
It was later, July 20, 1969 to be exact...which just so happens to be 40 years ago this Monday! that Apollo 11 landed men on the Moon, perhaps the biggest engineering achievement ever accomplished by mankind...maybe that's what makes this so poignant, because I never saw such a sense of pride in Walter Cronkite reporting it then...I look back at the time when he was in the booth, a time when America had the capability to send men to the moon, fight a war with 500,000 men overseas year after year, build cars with V8 engines when the speed limit was 70, it all seems a world away now.
Walter represented for me that old school, and when the Apollo astronauts landed on the Moon, not only was he proud to be an American, he was proud of the Human Race, and so was I...