HIS WORLD WAR II LETTERS HOME
By Walter Cronkite IV
and Maurice Isserman
National Geographic, $28
Before he was television’s most trusted newsman — pretty much before there was television news — Walter Cronkite was making a name for himself as a World War II correspondent for the United Press wire service. And, while those dispatches were being published in English language newspapers around the world, Cronkite also was serving as a correspondent for an audience of one.
His wife, Betsy.
Married on March 30, 1940, they had not reached their third anniversary before Cronkite’s job sent him overseas — first to England, then to other points in Europe as Allies pushed German forces back and forced their surrender. He flew aboard a B-17 on a bombing mission over Germany (and fired a machine gun at attacking German fighter planes, a violation of Geneva Convention rules since he was a civilian). He went into the Operation Market-Garden invasion of Holland on a glider with the 101st Airborne Division. He met Hollywood stars turned airmen like Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart. He chased down stories at air bases and foxholes and had an unexpected, four-word interview with Great Britain’s King George VI.
But those were the highlights. As with most reporting jobs, there was a lot of drudgery and frustration, intensified by the loneliness and frustration at being a young man away from his young wife for two years.
This, of course, was an experience shared by millions of military personnel and their loved ones throughout the war, and Cronkite poured out his longing in these letters.
While this book may appeal to media junkies, recalling once-famous journalistic bylines, it probably isn’t a gripping read for most people.
So much of what Cronkite wrote to his wife involved the mundane matters of his work in wartime capitals, where blackouts, curfews and shortages of food and fuel were bothersome, but trivial in the big picture of history’s greatest war. Perhaps things would be better if Cronkite had saved Betsy’s letters. (He didn’t.)
More likely, those epistles may have been interesting only to people named Cronkite. And that’s the way it is.
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