Walter Cronkite, the son of Walter Leland Cronkite Sr., a dentist, was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, on 4th November 1916. After studying political science and economics at University of Texas (1933-35) he joined The Houston Post.
In 1936 he became a news and sports reporter at KCMO radio in Kansas City. During this period he met an advertising writer named Mary Elizabeth Maxwell. They married in 1941 and over the next few years she gave birth to Walter Leland III, Nancy Elizabeth and Mary Kathleen.
During the Second World War he worked for the United Press. Cronkite was one of the eight war correspondents selected to fly with the United States Air Force on bombing missions over Germany. After a week's high-altitude aircrew training in England he flew his first mission in a B-17 Flying Fortress on 26th February 1943. One of the aircraft, carrying the journalist Robert Post, was shot down and the USAF scheme was abandoned.
Cronkite covered the Nuremberg War Trials and in 1946 moved to the Soviet Union where he worked as the United Press bureau chief in Moscow. Harold Jackson argued: "It was a tough period for western journalists, faced with a Stalinist paranoia which regarded anything not reported by the government-controlled media as a state secret. The physical conditions were also trying and it was with some relief that Cronkite returned to America in 1948." Cronkite then became Washington correspondent for a dozen Midwestern radio stations.
In 1950, Edward Murrow successfully recruited him for CBS. He was assigned to develop the news department of a new CBS station in Washington. He later commented: "We literally figured it out as we went along. For an old newspaperman it was like carrying a printing press around." Cronkite worked on several shows programmes including You Are There. In 1961, Cronkite replaced Murrow as CBS’s senior correspondent, and on 16th April, 1962, he joined CBS Evening News. He later commented: "We literally figured it out as we went along. For an old newspaperman it was like carrying a printing press around."
Cronkite was on air when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. According to the New York Times "Cronkite briefly lost his composure in announcing that the president had been pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Taking off his black-framed glasses and blinking back tears, he registered the emotions of millions."
In 1968, Cronkite visited Vietnam and returned to do a special program on the war. He called the conflict a stalemate and advocated a negotiated peace. President Lyndon B. Johnson watched the broadcast, and according to Bill Moyers: “The president flipped off the set and said, If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.” Douglas Martin claimed that Cronkite "pioneered and then mastered the role of television news anchorman with such plain-spoken grace that he was called the most trusted man in America."
Cronkite retired in 1981 at 64 and was replaced with Dan Rather. Later that year Cronkite was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and four years later was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. CBS named him a special correspondent; the position turned out to be largely honorary, though some reports suggested it paid $1 million a year. Cronkite later argued that this was because it was likely he would overshadow his successor: ""It's not the way I wanted it. I'd love them to make better use of me, but that's internal politics."
Cronkite has written several books including Eve of the World (1971), South by Southeast (1993), North by Northeast (1986), Westwind (1990), A Reporters Life (1998), Cronkite Remembers (1996), A Reporters Life (1998)and Sailing America's Coast (2008).
Walter Cronkite died of complications of dementia on 17th July, 2009.