Friday, February 20, 2015

Summon the Heroes Who Touched Savannah, Georgia: Walter Cronkite

War Correspondent Walter Cronkite of the
United Press (UP) with a bomber crew of the
323rd Bomb Group, U.S. Eighth Air Force
and their B-26 Marauder
(serial number 41-31951) nicknamed "U.S.O". 
Left to right: Technical Sergeant Ceibert C Bragg
(flight engineer), Staff Sergeant. Enrique Zepeda
(tail gunner), Staff Sergeant Arthur W Brand
(radio operator). First Lieutenant Norman M
Rosner (bombardier), First Lieutenant Jack W.
Nye (pilot), and Walter Cronkite (War Correspondent).
Photo source: The Writing 69th

SAVANNAH Georgia -- Before 1997, there was an exciting buzz that rolled quietly and quickly through Savannah conversations when the beloved 48-foot yacht "Wyntje"**, owned by the famed CBS news anchor* Walter Cronkite, was spotted in Atlantic Intracoastal Waterways of the Wilmington River or Savannah River.

Walter and his wife of nearly 65 years, Betsy Cronkite were likely on board, sailing south in the fall to Florida or the Virgin Islands and while returning north to his summer home at Martha’s Vineyard.

These were not Mr. Cronkite's first moments to enthrall southern folks in the Savannah, Georgia USA area. 

The San Diego Union Times reported, Cronkite "seems to turn up everywhere, casting his lusty stamp of approval, glossing some worthy event with his gravelly charm and wit and making us feel better about ourselves."


On February 26, 1943, it was the charm, wit, and persistence of war correspondent Walter Cronkite that opened opportunities for him to fly on daytime raids into Germany with the U.S. Eighth Air Force. The print journalist was assigned to cover the escalation of World War II through the London Bureau of United Press.
Best known as Emmy award winning, anchorman for the CBS Evening News for 19 years (1962–81), Walter Leland Cronkite, Jr. (1916-2009) was often cited as "the most trusted man in America".
A year earlier, on January 28, 1942, the Eighth Air Force had been officially activated at the National Guard Armory on Bull Street in Savannah, Georgia. Today it is home to American Legion Post 135 and Betty Bomber's All-American Eatery (1108 Bull Street near Park Avenue).
"By August 1942 the U.S. Eighth Force Bomber Command -- part of the Eighth Air Force -- had been organized to carry out the day-time bombing missions over Germany.... In a nutshell, Cronkite's job was to cover the Mighty Eighth's successes while glossing over its failures." (Source: "Cronkite" by Douglas Brinkley)
In his book, "The Writing 69th" author Jim Hamilton tells the true story of a devoted group of World War II journalists (including Walter Cronkite and Andy Rooney) who accompanied the Eighth Air Force bombing missions into Nazi Germany.

In 1996 the retired news anchor visited the Mighty Eighth Museum (now National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force) located in Pooler, near Savannah. We will be following to see if more of Walter Cronkite and The Writing 69th are showcased in the historical stories of the upcoming Mighty Eighth television miniseries from HBO, Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks. The new WWII mini-series will be based on Donald L. Miller’s nonfiction tome Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany.  


In the 1980s Walter Cronkite and artist Ray Ellis collaborated on a series of fine art, nautical-themed coffee table books which celebrate America’s coastlines. Mr. Cronkite penned the first, South by Southeast in 1983 (Oxmoor House). The late Mr. Ellis was a resident of Martha's Vineyard and Savannah. Many Savannah residents remember the excitement of attending the book launch and signing that was hosted at the Scarborough House, now Ships of the Sea Museum on Martin Luther King Boulevard.


A vibrant, old man of the sea, Walter Cronkite participated in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, known officially as the Games of the XXIV Olympiad and unofficially as the Centennial Olympics, as master of ceremonies (July 18, 1996) in Savannah for the opening of the yachting events. The sailing competition venues were near Tybee Island and Savannah in Warsaw Sound along the Georgia coast. The New York Times reports that the city welcomed 453 athletes on Savannah's historic River Street plaza. 
"The flags of 77 nations began to snap violently and torrential rain descended sideways upon the assembled crowd of 7,000." (The New York Times, "Rain Doesn't Dampen Savannah's Olympic Spirit", July 22, 1996) 
The Olympiad's official theme, "Summon the Heroes" was written by John Williams, making it the third Olympiad for which he has composed. The event featured "Worldwide Connection," a song composed by Savannah native Jeffrey Reed and a concert by Trisha Yearwood, a Georgia native.

Newport Clipper yacht photo by Steve Wellmeier used with written permission
The 100-passenger Newport Clipper docked in
front of Factors Row in 1983, along Savannah's
historic waterfront. Photo by Steve Wellmeier
used with written permission
When we visit the Mighty Eighth museum, when we pass the Ray Ellis Gallery on Ellis Square, and when small yachts arrive and dock in port along the Savannah harbor, we will think more of Walter Cronkite not only for his "And that's the way it was" reporting, but his robust life that he shared with so many.

We appreciate that he supported our Savannah flyboys in World War II and for his brief, treasured moments with us. Even now, as we summon the thoughts of this brave war correspondent, CBS news anchor, author, philanthropist, and yachtsman, we feel better about ourselves.

“He was reassuringly permanent when so much was in flux,” writes Douglas Brinkley, a historian and contributing editor at Vanity Fair. “Even when he was announcing tragic news, he was himself a reminder that America would persevere.” -- The New York Times

Copyright 2015 Zeigler House Inn, Savannah, Georgia USA.

Side notes:
*In 1952 he coined the term "News Anchor" to describe his news reporting role at the Republican and Democratic Party conventions that year.

**Wyntje [win-cha; Dutch] ketch (sailboat) was named after the first woman (a distant cousin) to marry a Cronkite in the New World, Wyntje Frankheyt. The name Cronkite is a derivation from the original Dutch Krankheyt.   In 1997 Mr. Cronkite donated his 48 foot, 50,000 pound, custom built sailboat to Associated Marine Institute, a nationwide organization dedicated to helping young people find alternatives to getting in trouble. (Source: Dutch Americans)

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