Friday, June 07, 2013

Cronkite's War: His World War II Letters Home by Walter Cronkite IV and Maurice Isserman

Embedding journalists with military units in the Iraq War was not really a new thing in 2003. Walter Cronkite, then a print reporter with United Press, closely covered the U.S. Eighth Air Force during its 1943-1944 bombing campaign of German military and industrial targets. He got to know many of the air force officers and some of the young pilots, many of whom died on missions. He even flew with a few missions before UP forbad such dangerous work.

Cronkite was young and recently married when the U.S. joined the war. Despite the danger of living in often-bombed London, he eagerly accepted the assignment, leaving with the intention of writing his wife Betsy every day. He discovered that he stayed too busy to do that, but he did send frequent typed letters, V-mail, and telegrams back to her. His grandson, one of the authors of Cronkite's War: His World War II Letters Home, Walter Cronkite IV, read scores of these letters at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum at the University of Texas at Austin.

In Cronkite's War, the authors transcribe letters with clarifying commentaries, adding stories published by UP newspapers. In the letters, the correspondent told his wife a bit about the war and much about finding an apartment, being cold and hungry, entreating other journalists, running out of typewriter ribbons, and how to follow a lead to a story. He expressed his loneliness and schemed to get her a newspaper position in London and later on the continent. The letters ended when he got his wish.

The daily reports in Cronkite's War are a bit repetitive, as letters can be, but they do impart the experience of being separated from one's family. The book will appeal to a variety of readers, many of whom do not regularly read about war.

Cronkite, Walter IV and Maurice Isserman. Cronkite's War: His World War II Letters Home. National Geographic, 2013. 318p. ISBN 9781426210198.

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