Friday, July 17, 2009

Walter Cronkite, the man who took us all to the moon

Walter Cronkite, the legendary anchor of the "CBS Evening News," has died at the age of 92.

His was the voice that guided America through triumphs and tragedies, a steady, clear voice in a turbullent and unpredictable age.

It was Cronkite who told Americans about the Cuban missile crisis, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Civil Rights struggle, Vietnam and the anti-war protests, Roe vs. Wade, Watergate, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Three Mile Island and the Iran hostage crisis. His calm but strong voice let us all know what was going on.

Cronkite's professionalism extended to every area of the news (although there were times, such as his coverage of the Kennedy assassination when glimpses of a man who was just an American like all of us came through.) But there was one day on which he felt it was important to speak out. It came following the Tet Offensive in the Vietnamese War, an event in which while Americans were able to beat back Viet Cong attacks at every turn, the enemy was able to prove that the war had not been won (despite statements to that effect by American planners) and that they could still launch attacks in virtually every area of South Vietnam. Walter Cronkite felt then that he had a duty and an obligation to use his podium to express his belief that the war was unwinnable. To be silent any longer and let more young Americans bleed their lives away once he realized that would not have been in his character.

That is not the one area of reporting where he will be most remembered though.

Monday will be the fortieth anniversary of that day when the Eagle soared over the airless surface of a barren and alien new world. Forty years ago Apollo 11 reached the moon and Neil Armstrong set his foot down on its dry, lifeless and dusty surface. Much has been said and written about it. But far from just another news story, reporting on America's space program was Walter Cronkite's favorite topic. It was his passion, and a passion which he shared with millions of Americans. There are those who claim that what interest in space we have originated with television shows like Star Trek or movies like Star Wars. Perhaps, but I don't believe it. No, it originated with a news anchor, someone who took the time and really felt how important it was to explain to us what it took to put a giant spaceship into space and to explore a place which had captivated people for millenia and was now within reach.

On Monday we will hear a lot about the spaceship that took three astronauts to the moon. But I hope we hear too about the news anchor who took millions of people to the moon with them, and without leaving their living rooms.

1 comment:

Helene said...

You should write a column in a newspaper.

Your way with words is exquisite