Cronkite's War: His World War II Letters Home

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Overview

A giant in American journalism in the vanguard of "The Greatest Generation" reveals his World War II experiences in this National Geographic book. Walter Cronkite, an obscure 23-year-old United Press wire service reporter, married Betsy Maxwell on March 30, 1940, following a four-year courtship. She proved to be the love of his life, and their marriage lasted happily until her death in 2005. But before Walter and Betsy Cronkite celebrated their second anniversary, he became a credentialed war correspondent, ...

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Overview

A giant in American journalism in the vanguard of "The Greatest Generation" reveals his World War II experiences in this National Geographic book. Walter Cronkite, an obscure 23-year-old United Press wire service reporter, married Betsy Maxwell on March 30, 1940, following a four-year courtship. She proved to be the love of his life, and their marriage lasted happily until her death in 2005. But before Walter and Betsy Cronkite celebrated their second anniversary, he became a credentialed war correspondent, preparing to leave her behind to go overseas. The couple spent months apart in the summer and fall of 1942, as Cronkite sailed on convoys to England and North Africa across the submarine-infested waters of the North Atlantic. After a brief December leave in New York City spent with his young wife, Cronkite left again on assignment for England. This time, the two would not be reunited until the end of the war in Europe. Cronkite would console himself during their absence by writing her long, detailed letters — sometimes five in a week — describing his experiences as a war correspondent, his observations of life in wartime Europe, and his longing for her.

Betsy Cronkite carefully saved the letters, copying many to circulate among family and friends. More than a hundred of Cronkite's letters from 1943-45 (plus a few earlier letters) survive. They reveal surprising and little known facts about this storied public figure in the vanguard of "The Greatest Generation" and a giant in American journalism, and about his World War II experiences. They chronicle both a great love story and a great war story, as told by the reporter who would go on to become anchorman for the CBS Evening News, with a reputation as "the most trusted man in America."

Illustrated with heartwarming photos of Walter and Betsy Cronkite during the war from the family collection, the book is edited by Cronkite's grandson, CBS associate producer Walter Cronkite IV, and esteemed historian Maurice Isserman, the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of History at Hamilton College.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Compiled by the grandson of the late CBS Evening News anchorman, this is a fascinating and informative collection of Walter Cronkite Jr.’s personal World War II letters to his wife, Betsy. The correspondence offers a chronological account of Cronkite’s experiences and impressions as a young war reporter based out of London and then Brussels. Along with Hamilton College history professor Isserman (Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering From the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, coauthor), the fourth Cronkite interweaves contextual commentary with the letters to create a seamless narrative of his grandfather’s thrilling adventures, including bombing missions over Germany, rocket attacks on London, an air assault by glider into Holland, and following Patton’s army into the Battle of the Bulge. By war’s end, Cronkite’s reportage had made him one of the preeminent American journalists of his generation and set the stage for his future success as one of the most beloved anchors of the nightly news’ heyday. A thoroughly enjoyable read, this will enthrall fans of the newsman, as well as students of WWII and the history of journalism. 25 b&w photos. Agent: Sandra Dijkstra, Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency. (May 7)
Library Journal
Before Walter Cronkite (1916–2009) became a famous CBS television newsman, he reported on World War II from London for the United Press newswire service when he was still in his twenties. Here Cronkite's grandson (associate producer, CBS News) and Isserman (history, Hamilton Coll.) present a selection of his letters at that time to his wife, Betsy, in Kansas City, MO—they'd married in 1940—along with helpful explanations and historical context. These unpretentious letters, which barely mention any dangers the journalist faced, are mostly from England in the period 1943-45. They detail the daily routines of a journalist in wartime: arranging meetings, writing stories under deadline, dealing with military censors, struggling to travel anywhere, shortages and rationing of everything, and enjoying rarities like chocolate and razor blades. He also describes the legendary social environment of wartime London. Like any true reporter, Cronkite wanted to cover the big stories—D-day, bombing missions, ground combat—but, other than on a trip to northern Europe, he was obliged to remain in London (he'd been to North Africa before these letters start). VERDICT With its fascinating glimpses of a stirring time that was a crucible for so many journalists, this book is for all general readers interested in Cronkite, World War II war correspondents, or wartime London.—Daniel Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL
Kirkus Reviews
A charming series of letters from a young Walter Cronkite (1916–2009) to his wife, Betsy, chronicles his rising star as a war correspondent. Sent by the UP wire service to London and elsewhere as a foreign correspondent from early 1943 until the end of the war, Cronkite recorded his long months away from his Kansas City home through copious, effusive letters, collated here by his grandson, Cronkite IV, an associate producer at CBS News, and Isserman (History/Hamilton Coll.; co-author: America Divided: The Civil War of the 1960s, 1999, etc.). As Cronkite aimed to use his dispatches as a record of his early professional experience, the letters demonstrate the young correspondent's eye for journalistic detail, but they mostly reveal touching day-to-day details of the hardworking, frequently lonely and uncertain reporter, and his tremendous love for his wife. From his first dispatch in early September 1942 covering the convoy Task Force 38 aboard the U.S.S. Arkansas and early reports from Operation Torch in North Africa, to being embedded in the air war over Europe as part of the celebrated so-called "Writing Sixty-Ninth," Cronkite was steadily making a name for himself as a capable, trustworthy reporter. He lived cheek by jowl alongside other UP reporters Jim McGlincy, Harrison Salisbury and Bob Mussel and became friendly with fellow newspapermen such as Homer Bigart of the New York Herald Tribune, writing warmly of their gags and drinking bouts. Cronkite's journalistic breakthrough occurred when he flew in a B-17 bombing raid over Germany in February 1943: His account hit the front page of the New York Times and made Cronkite famous, garnering an offer to join "Murrow's Boys" at CBS Radio at twice his UP salary. (Cronkite turned it down!) An extraordinary journey with the most trusted man in America.
From the Publisher
"With its fascinating glimpses of a stirring time that was a crucible for so many journalists, this book is for all general readers interested in Cronkite, World War II war correspondents, or wartime London." —-Library Journal Starred Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781426210198
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 5/7/2013
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 366,923
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

WALTER CRONKITE IV is an associate producer with CBS News.

MAURICE ISSERMAN is the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of History at Hamilton College.
His most recent book is the prize-winning Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes, co-written with Stewart Weaver, which the New York Timescalled "the book of a lifetime...an awe-inspiring work of history and storytelling."

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 21, 2014

    Vivid descriptions and great detail!!

    For anyone who admires Walter Cronkite this is required reading. It's full of vivid descriptions and great detail of the war, England, it's people and his love for his wife, Betsy. It's remarkable that the letters were saved and could be put into book form.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2013

    Shown on the far left is my grandfather, Ceibert C. Bragg, who j

    Shown on the far left is my grandfather, Ceibert C. Bragg, who joined the Army Air Corp as a gunner/engineer on a Martin Marauder B-26 as a member of the 454th Bomb Squadron, 323rd Bomb Group. The B-26 crew in the photo flew Walter Cronkite on the "U.S.O." plane the day the photo was taken; however, they were a relief crew whose primary aircraft was "Honest Injun" which flew in the third wave of the invasion of Normandy. During an aerial engagement, my grandfather's plane was attacked by two Messerschmitt fighters; he engaged both and was credited for destroying one. For his actions, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 9 clusters and numerous other recognitions. After 63 combat missions, he entered pilot training and was released upon cessation of hostilities. He reenlisted after discharge and served during the Korean War. He retired as a Master Sergeant after 21 years military service in 1963. My grandfather passed away on May 22, 2011 just shy of his 90th birthday. He was a hero from the greatest generation. God speed.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2013

    Informative and enjoyable

    I have always been a bit of a WW II buff, so this was an easy decision to purchase. It offers an interesting view of the war, the people of England, and the Americans who served there. Cronkite, always a talented observer, shared many experiences in detail, in his letters home. It's a great read.

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  • Posted May 31, 2013

    It wasn't as interesting as I expected.

    Format is excellent and composition was well thought out. I guess it was probably just me and my expectation of the Cronkite I watched on the news.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2013

    If you like history and are a fan of Walter Cronkite, this is th

    If you like history and are a fan of Walter Cronkite, this is the book for you! It gives you a first hand view of his experiences during World War II--the personal as well as professional. As a woman, I especially related to his messages to his beloved wife, Betsy, who he missed dearly. The letters capture his loneliness and yearnings to be reunited.

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