Saturday, July 18, 2009

Goodnight, Uncle Walter

“…And that’s the way it is.”

Walter Cronkite said those very words every evening for 19 years behind the anchor desk at CBS news. He was there when John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the 35th president of the United States, and when the same president was coldly assassinated 3 years later on November 22nd, 1963. He was there to guide America, and hold its hand, during the turbulent and confusing decade of the 60’s, when the whole world was being turned upside down and inside out due to racial tensions, the anti-war movement, and the hippie movement youth-quake. He was there at America’s proudest moment, when the Apollo 11 spacecraft blasted off into the troposphere and landed man on the moon. He sat at the center of all this, calm, cool and collected, effectively creating the model of the modern day anchorman. And now he’s gone, too soon even at age 92.

I was too young to have really appreciated Walter Cronkite, but I have heard through the years that he was known as “the most trusted man in news,” and after seeing various clips of him and listening to that soothing voice, his calm demeanor, and his heartfelt delivery, I can see why. If I had to hear bad news, I would have liked Walter Cronkite to break it to me.

Walt was a pioneer; he started broadcasting when TV was at its infancy, and worked without a net most of the time. This was in the age before tele-prompters, remember; he gave his most famous broadcast, the Kennedy assassination, off the cuff, standing by a United Press International Wire machine, reading the news as he received it. And he shared his anguish, visibly choking back tears as he told us that the beloved president was dead. His honesty, his humanity, is what made him the towering figure that he was. They don’t make them like Walter Cronkite anymore.

I was just a kid when Walter Cronkite gave his last newscast, on Friday, March 6th, 1981. I remember watching it with my parents. Hell, I bet all of America and the world were watching. And somehow I felt sad about it, his weathered and kindly face, his calm voice; he was hypnotic. And the reason I felt sad was because I was picking up on Walter’s emotions; he was sad to go too. He was being forced to retire. Still, I watched him give his last statement as CBS anchorman:

“This is my last broadcast as the anchorman of The CBS Evening News; for me, it's a moment for which I long have planned, but which, nevertheless, comes with some sadness. For almost two decades, after all, we've been meeting like this in the evenings, and I'll miss that. But those who have made anything of this departure, I'm afraid have made too much. This is but a transition, a passing of the baton. A great broadcaster and gentleman, Doug Edwards, preceded me in this job, and another, Dan Rather, will follow, and anyway, the person who sits here is but the most conspicuous member of a superb team of journalists; writers, reporters, editors, producers, and none of that will change. Furthermore, I'm not even going away! I'll be back from time to time with special news reports and documentaries, and, beginning in June, every week, with our science program, Universe. Old anchormen, you see, don't fade away; they just keep coming back for more. And that's the way it is: Friday, March 6, 1981. I'll be away on assignment, and Dan Rather will be sitting in here for the next few years. Good night.”

Goodnight Uncle Walter; I guarantee you’ll make anchor in Heaven.

David Hunter, The Writers Den

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