Childhood & Early Life
Walter Leland Cronkite was born on November 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Missouri, US, to Helen Lena and Dr. Walter Leland Cronkite. He was raised in Kansas City, Missouri, till the age of 10, after which he moved with his family to Houston, Texas.
He started his education at the ‘Woodrow Wilson Elementary School’ and later joined the ‘Lanier Junior High School.’ He then went on to graduate from the ‘San Jacinto High School’ and joined the ‘University of Texas at Austin.’
During his high-school days, he was part of the ‘Boy Scouts’ and was the editor of the high-school newspaper. In college, he worked with the ‘Daily Texan’ and was a member of the Nu chapter of the ‘Chi Phi Fraternity.’ In his quest for journalism, he also became a member of the Houston chapter of ‘DeMolay.’
Walter quit college in 1935, before completing his degree, to take up a full-time career in newspaper reporting. Within a year, he gained entry into the broadcasting industry as an announcer for ‘WKY’ radio station in Oklahoma.
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Cronkite soon gained recognition as “Walter Wilcox,” which was his broadcast name. He became a member of the ‘United Press’ in 1937 and established himself as one of the best American war reporters during World War II, covering wars in North Africa and Europe.
He received an offer from ‘CBS News,’ to join the ‘Murrow Boys’ team that covered the war and to take over the Moscow bureau. However, he declined the offer and decided to continue with the ‘United Press.’
He was one of the first war correspondents to report on the Anglo–American campaign against the French, during ‘Operation Torch’ in North Africa. He flew in a ‘United States Army Air Forces’ bomber over Germany and even operated the machine gun of the aircraft in combat.
He covered the ‘Nuremberg’ trials after the war and was the main reporter of the ‘United Press’ in Moscow, from 1946 to 1948.
Cronkite joined ‘CBS News’ in 1950, to become the anchor of the Sunday evening news program called ‘Up To the Minute’ and covered the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections with his program titled ‘Pick the Winner.’
He hosted the ‘CBS’ historical documentaries and serials titled ‘You Are There,’ ‘The Twentieth Century,’ and ‘It’s News to Me,’ which were quite popular in the 1960s.
Cronkite was the main broadcaster for the 1960 ‘Winter Olympics’ coverage by ‘CBS,’ which was the first time such an event was telecast live in the US.
He became an icon of evening news when he took over the ‘CBS Evening News’ broadcast from Douglas Edwards, in April 1962. In September 1963, the show was expanded to 30 minutes and became the first nightly half-hour news program in American broadcasting history.
He gained a reputation for accurate and timely reporting and was praised for his coverage of the assassination of President John F Kennedy in November 1963. This was instrumental in pushing the rating of ‘CBS’ above that of its rival, ‘NBC.’
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In 1968, he went to Vietnam to report on the aftermath of the ‘Tet Offensive.’ On his return from the trip, he wrote articles that portrayed the truth about the war and the hopeless situation of the Americans who were dealing with guerrilla warfare.
His coverage of the ‘Apollo’ missions to the moon, with co-host and former astronaut Wally Schirra, made ‘CBS’ the most-watched channel during the late 1960s and early 1970s. This was followed by his coverage of the ‘Watergate’ scandal, which led to the resignation of President Richard M Nixon in August 1974, and the Iran hostage crisis, in January 1980, which grabbed the world’s attention.
Walter Cronkite ultimately retired from broadcast journalism in March 1981, with his final bulletin of ‘CBS Evening News,’ that was succeeded by Dan Rather.
Even after his retirement, he continued to appear on ‘CBS,’ ‘CNN,’ and ‘NPR’ as a guest. His interview with Margaret Thatcher after her victory in 1983 was viewed widely.
His 1998 documentary, ‘Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance,’ produced by the ‘Santa Clara Valley Historical Association,’ was highly acclaimed. His participation in the panel discussion on ‘Integrity in the Media’ at the ‘Connecticut Forum’ in Hartford, Connecticut, in May 1999, was also appreciated.
Awards & Achievements
In 1968, he received the ‘Carr Van Anda Award’ for enduring contribution to journalism. This was followed by the ‘Freedom of the Press George Polk Award’ and the ‘Paul White Award’ in 1970.
He received the ‘James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service’ in 1972 and the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ from Jimmy Carter in 1981.
He also received a lifetime achievement award from the ‘Radio Television Digital News Association’ in 1985 and the ‘Ischia International Journalism Award’ in 1999.
He was elected as a ‘Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ in 2003 and became the first non-astronaut to receive ‘NASA’s ‘Ambassador of Exploration Award’ in 2006.
He met Mary Elizabeth “Betsy” Maxwell in 1936, while working as a sports announcer for ‘KCMO (AM)’ radio station in Kansas City, Missouri, and got married to her in March 1940. They had three children: Nancy, Mary Kathleen, and Walter Leland Cronkite III.
He loved sailing and owned a custom-made boat with which he often sailed in the coastal waters of the US.
His wife died of cancer in March 2005. Following this, he dated singer Joanna Simon, till his death. He died at the age of 92, due to cerebrovascular disease, in July 2009, at his home in New York City.