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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Twentieth Century

Friday, July 24, 2009

Like most of you, I mourned the death last week of the American journalism legend, Walter Cronkite. Countless shows and articles are paying tribute to this wonderful public figure. His life was a microcosm of what the American Dream was all about.

As I mentioned in another article a few weeks back, I was not a regular nightly news viewer of Walter. Like many American families of the late 50s and early 60s, we watched the 5:30 p.m. news each evening, most often while we were eating our dinner. Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the news of choice at my home.

It was not that we did not like Walter Cronkite, it was just that we were in the habit of watching NBC instead of CBS. A habit is a habit, and the families who watched Cronkite and heard him say, "and that's the way it is," were just as devoted to his show.

Incidentally, eating your evening meal during the nightly news was very much a common habit for families back then. The times were a lot slower and less complicated.

These days, the idea of even having a sit down family dinner is almost nonexistent. We learned a lot about life and the news as a family at those dinners. Unlike today's 24-hour breaking news productions, we actually trusted people like Cronkite, Huntley, and Brinkley, to tell us the news without editing it to fit some philosophy.

Although Walter began his career as a newspaper journalist, he early on transferred his talents to the new media of radio. Something about his voice, and the sincerity of his words made him very popular. His radio skills easily adapted to the new television news format as well.

Many know him primarily for his newscasts. I had a couple of other favorite shows that I think were his very best. The first of these were the, "You Were There," programs. In these shows Cronkite reenacted historical events as if they were part of a news report.

My all time favorite show was the one he usually had on Sunday evenings called, "The Twentieth Century." These shows were documentary coverage's of important events in the last century. Almost all of the show consisted of newsreel coverage of those events accompanied by Walter's narrative.

Walter made these shows very real because he had two great advantages. First, he had lived through most of them. Born in 1916, he was a true citizen of the 20th century. He also had a no nonsense and honest way of looking at almost any subject.

The Prudential Insurance Company sponsored the show each week. The picture of the "rock" in the ocean was a regular part of our Sunday evening viewing. Today's networks are not inclined to carry such documentaries. Luckily for us, channels like A&E and PBS still have shows that Cronkite would love.

One of my favorite shows from that series was called "The Violent World of Sam Huff." According to Wikipedia, this show was aired during the 1960 television season.

I was just beginning my junior high years at that time. We had no "Little League Football" in those days. Most of our games were held in somebody's back yard until we got to the seventh-grade.

Sam Huff became my hero from that show with Walter. For that day and time the live, on-field video was exceptional. For the first time you could see the violence and the struggle of the game of football. Huff was the middle linebacker for the New York Giants. I never got to wear his number 70, but I always asked for it at every level that I played.

Walter was really influential in his broadcasting career on three other occasions of my young life. The first was the Kennedy assassination. I was in fourth-hour English class at NHS when the news came over the intercom about the event. There were no televisions at school, so we listened to Walter Cronkite's radio broadcast.

The second time Walter had a great influence on my generation was when he came back from covering the "Tet Offensive" in Vietnam Walter, who had covered World War II, was not one to trash the military, but this time he had a different outlook. He told the American people that after talking with the men on the ground, it was his opinion that America could not win that war unless the people of South Vietnam won it for themselves. It was said on the news the other night, that when Lyndon Johnson watched that broadcast he knew the war was lost too.

The final time Walter was a big part of my life was when we made the first moon landing. I was just 20 years old at the time, and had literally grown up with the space program. I was only seven years old when "Sputnik" was launched.

Of all the newsmen who covered the space program, Walter was for me the most knowledgeable. I suspect that was because he really had a love for the people and the idea of space travel.

I can still remember having to tell myself to breathe those last few minutes of the descent to the moon. I think Walter was in the same shape as me.

I heard someone say in the past couple of days, that they should take some of Walter's ashes and send them to the moon with the next space flight.

There is only one problem with that idea. If Walter was here to tell us, he would argue that we need live coverage of the landing. It would go something like, "This is the 21st Century, and yes you are there!"