Wednesday, July 22, 2009

We Were There


Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr.
(November 4, 1916 – July 17, 2009)

was an American broadcast journalist, best known as anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years (1962–81). During the heyday of CBS News in the 1960s and 1970s, he was often cited in viewer opinion polls as "the most trusted man in America" because of his professional experience and kindly demeanor. Although he reported many events from 1937-1981, including bombing in World War II, the Nuremberg trials, combat in the Vietnam War, the death of JFK, Watergate, and the Iran Hostage Crisis, he was known for extensive TV coverage of the U.S. space program, from Project Mercury to the Moon landings (with co-host Wally Shirra), to the Space Shuttle. He was the only non-NASA recipient of a Moon-rock award. Also, the Beatles' first American TV broadcast was with Walter Cronkite.

I, like millions of Americans, was gathered with my family and was riveted to my home TV set when Cronkite gave his tear-laden report that President John F. Kennedy had died. It was one of those moments in our lives that we remember where we were, who we were with, and what we were doing when we first learned that JFK had been assassinated.

I was in my tenth grade World History Class when senior Eddie Owens barged in on Mr. Ryan's lesson with the horrible news. Our teacher closed up his book, walked out of the classroom and never returned for the rest of the session leaving a room full of students to try to fathom what we had just heard.

The whole world watched and listened when Cronkite informed us that the Eagle had landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the moon. His commentary was the backdrop as Neil Armstrong made his famous "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" quote.

I gained the utmost for respect for Walter Cronkite a few years ago. He was being paid to speak up against the proposed construction of a Wind Mill Farm in the New England waters off the island of Nantucket. While these wind mills would have been visible as tiny objects on the horizon, the wealthy residents there, included Senator Edward Kennedy, were afraid their sea side views would be ruined. Of course they argued with contrived stories of the damage and harm the structures would have upon the rich sea life in those waters. With Cronkite as their advocate and speaking in their behalf, the idea of these instruments of alternate energy suffered a big setback.

Shortly after these public service ads began, Cronkite walked away from the contract. He later admitted that he'd known nothing about the negative or positive benefits of wind mill power. He said he hadn't done on his homework on the subject and agreed to do the public service ads against their construction.

He realized he'd been wrong. Not only only would the Wind Mill Farm be beneficial as alternative sources of of power, but they would also cut down on the use of fossil fuels. He paid for his own ads to say he'd been wrong and that he supported their construction. For the common New Englander he solidified his claim to the sobriquet "The most trusted man in America."

I have fonder memories of Cronkite because of a TV series which ran from 1953 to 1957, You Are There. The series was a wonderful retelling of the famous events in history that we were learning in our school classrooms. One week we might have watched Christopher Columbus discover America, or the trial of Joan of Arc, the signing of the Constitution, or Custer's Last Stand.

Cronkite from his CBS desk in New York would give a description of what was about to happen and the an announcer would give the date and the event followed a bold "You Are There." Cronkite would then return to describe the event and its characters more in detail, before throwing it to the event, saying, "All things are as they were then, except... You Are There."

At the end of the program, after Cronkite summarizes what happened in the preceding event, he reminded viewers, "What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times... and you were there."

Before he retired America tuned in to his news reports. When he was on the air ... "We Were There."



Sandee said...

They don't make them like him anymore. He was indeed a man that could be trusted. He proved that with the windmill issue. Funny how those same blowhards rule our lives but they remain isolated behind their private gates with their security and the great views. They haven't a clue how the rest of us live.

Have a terrific day. :)

Mike Golch said...

The sad thing is that a man like him will never be pass this way again.

Hale McKay said...


When a celebrity takes a stand and admits his mistakes on issues - that shows character. He had character all along, it good to see he never lost it.

Hale McKay said...


You are so right. There'll never be another like him.