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Cronkite’s War: His World War II Letters Home


WASHINGTON — In December 1942, Walter Cronkite, a newly minted, 26-year-old United Press war correspondent, was sent to Europe to cover World War ll. He would not be reunited with his wife, Betsy, for nearly three years. In hundreds of letters he wrote to Betsy between 1943 and 1945 — sometimes five a day — Cronkite chronicled his war experiences, his observations of life in wartime Europe and his longing for her. In a new book from National Geographic, CRONKITE’S WAR: His World War ll Letters Home (National Geographic Books; ISBN 978-1-4262-1019-8; on-sale date: May 7, 2013; $28 hardcover), Walter and Betsy’s grandson Walter Cronkite lV and historian Maurice Isserman use this personal, heartfelt correspondence along with selections from Cronkite’s wartime dispatches to create a compelling narrative of war and love. Journalist Tom Brokaw provides a foreword to the book.

Cronkite’s wartime adventures took him from the landing grounds of North Africa and bombing raids over occupied Europe to crash landing a glider in Holland behind enemy lines with the 101st Airborne, surviving the bombing of Eindhoven by the Luftwaffe and filing dispatches on the Battle of the Bulge. These and many other stories chronicled in CRONKITE’S WAR provide revealing insights into the man who was the defining voice of “the greatest generation” and who became America’s foremost television anchorman.

“World War ll made my grandfather the man he was,” writes Walter Cronkite lV in his introduction. “He was already smart, competitive, and driven, but the war made him tough, worldly, and thoughtful. He was catapulted from a promising but obscure wire service reporter in the Midwest to an internationally famous war correspondent. The war provided the foundation for the rest of his illustrious career. It vaulted him into the top ranks of U.S. reporters.”

The book provides a more complete picture of the man who significantly shaped the popular memory of World War ll for those who lived through it. It casts light on the professional as well as personal life of the journalistic legend who, in a 1972 poll, was voted “the most trusted man in America.”

More than a hundred of Cronkite’s letters to his wife survive and are archived in the Walter Cronkite Papers at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin.

Walter Cronkite lV, who offers fascinating observations and experiences about growing up as the Cronkites’ grandson, says that the ties that bound his grandparents in their 60 happy years together after World War ll were forged during their lonely years of separation. “The letters to Betsy collected in this book show the importance of this loving and enduring marriage.”

In his foreword, Brokaw writes, “In this remarkable collection of personal letters, the reader is transported back to the pivotal year of 1943, when the push against Hitler’s war machine was beginning to have its effect. In the straight-ahead, honest prose he later became famous for as an anchorman, Walter mixed the momentous, the personal, and the ordinary in his dispatches to Betsy.” Calling theirs a “quintessential American love story,” Brokaw adds that Walter and Betsy were a matched pair with a “zest for life…who loved each other deeply.”

Equal parts love story and history lesson, CRONKITE’S WAR is an intimate glimpse into the man who became one of the most important voices in our nation’s history.

About the Authors

Walter Cronkite lV, Walter Cronkite’s grandson, is an associate editor with CBS News.

Maurice Isserman is the Publius Virgilius Rogers Professor of History at Hamilton College. He is the author of the prize-winning book “Fallen Giants: A History of Himalayan Mountaineering from the Age of Empire to the Age of Extremes,” co-authored with Stewart Weaver.


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