National Press Club

Walter Cronkite's grandson, at Book Rap, discusses his grandad's WWII letters home

June 5, 2013 | By Jan King |

Walt Cronkite took a long time to get to know his grandfather, the late, beloved broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite. And it took him even longer – a year after his grandfather’s death – to learn about his famous ancestor's life as a younger man.

Now an associate producer for politics at CBS News, Walt Cronkite admitted as much in in discussing the book about his grandfather he co-authored, “Cronkite’s War: His WWII Letters Home,” at a National Press Club Book Rap June 4.

The younger Cronkite – who wrote the book with his former Hamilton College writing professor Maurice Isserman -- described to the audience how he summered in Martha’s Vineyard, where his grandfather lived. He really got to know his grandfather, he said, when Walter Cronkite was an older man.

Later, a year after his grandfather's death and his papers were donated to the Lyndon Johnson Presidential Library in Texas, Walt Cronkite got to know considerably more about his granddad’s youth. In visiting the library, the younger Cronkite found the letters that Walter Cronkite had written when he was a civilian war correspondent in WWII to his beloved new wife, Betsy.

Walter and Betsy had only been married for two-and-a-half years when he left for 28 months to report on World War II and also promote the American cause. He became part of a high-powered group of journalists who were assigned to cover the air war, among them Edward R. Murrow, Harrison Salisbury and Andy Rooney, who later became a life-long friend.

Of his grandfather's writing, Walt said: "He was a good writer, a fast writer, and told a great story."

Walt Cronkite said that he and Isserman titled their book “Cronkite’s War,” because the "war" referred to not only his grandfather’s news coverage, but also to his long separation from Betsy. His grandfather hated being away from Betsy for such a long period, Walt Cronkite said, and wrote lovingly to her about that.

Walter Cronkite also wrote lovingly about their cocker spaniel, Judy, dear to both of them. In his writings about the war, he told Betsy about waiting at the airbase for individual airmen he’d come to know to return from their missions. Unfortunately, three of four never did.

Walter and Betsy were reunited in 1945 for three months, before he left to join the United Press Bureau in Brussels. Betsy joined him soon after that and they were never apart again. Cronkite entered broadcast journalism in the 1950s, and reigned there for 50 years.