Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Memory of Walter

I was at a 4th of July party yestrday and someone mention Walter Cronkite.

I first met Mr. Cronkite in Vietnam in 1968. He was there on his quintessential visit that led him to declare to a nationwide audience that the war could not be won. The disclosure led President Lyndon Johnson to say to staffers that "if I've lost Cronkite, I have lost the nation"

I was a CBS affiliate reporter assigned to Vietnam in January and February of 1968. My cameraman and I were headquartered in the Hotel Caravelle in Saigon, and from there we would hitch rides with military units to interview and tell the stories of local servicemen and women fighting and serving in the various theaters of battle throughout the country.

One night after several days in the field we came back to the hotel in Saigon to ship our film back to the states through the courier pouches of our network, CBS. We were having dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant; a couple of tables away sat Walter and his producer Ernie Leiser.

I waited until they finished dinner and I hesitatingly walked over to Mr. Cronkite’s table to introduce myself. Walter was gracious, courteous, inquisitive and offered help in the filing of our stories.

He thought for a moment and said to me, “didn’t you recently do a story we ran on CBS news about a train wreck and explosion in Indiana.”

I said yes. I was thrilled. Mr. Cronkite remembered.

Go ahead two years and circumstances found me reporting for the CBS Owned and Operated Station in New York. Walter’s office was in the same building.

I would see and talk to him in the hallway, and occasionally we’d ask him for a comment or interview on journalism or the passing of a colleague. He was always accommodating.

Eventually, we both left CBS.

Several years ago I was working on an independent documentary about the Nuremberg war crime trials. I called Walter’s office to request an interview with him since he was a UPI pool reporter covering the trials in 1945. Through his secretary, he agreed to the interview.

A few days later I arrived at his office at the CBS headquarters in New York, Walter got out of his chair, shuffled over to me for his step was then frail, put both arms on my shoulders as he stood in front of me and said: “Old friend, how are you?”

Great men exist, and I was fortunate to know one and admire one.

“That’s the way it is.”

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