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Memorial honors Walter Cronkite

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Walter Cronkite at the CBS Evening News anchor desk Walter Cronkite at the CBS Evening News anchor desk
ST JOSEPH, MO (KCTV) -

Long before the days of Twitter, Facebook, blogs and 24/7 news cycles, there was Walter Cronkite.

And just in time for the 50th anniversary of his most famous moment in his career, there is a new memorial for the legendary CBS newsman.

"On this day in 1916, Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born in St.. Joseph, MO," Kathy Cronkite told the crowd gathered to honor her father. "He was a child who would one day move to Kansas City and begin his illustrious news career."

Gov. Jay Nixon was among those honoring Cronkite, a native of St. Joseph who also lived in Kansas City.

He was a young man when Cronkite got his start in the journalism business by hawking copies of the Kansas City Star.

He was a 20-year-old cub reporter for a wire service when he was among those who in 1937 covered the horrific story of a school exploding in east Texas. Filled with the children of oil field workers, the school blew up when odorless natural gas built up and exploded. With an estimated 300 children and adults killed, the New London School explosion remains the deadliest school disaster in American history.

He would go on to cover World War II and the Nuremberg trials, but he said about that Texas explosion, "I did nothing in my studies nor in my life to prepare me for a story of the magnitude of that New London tragedy, nor has any story since that awful day equaled it."

His career would grow until he became head of what would become CBS Evening News in 1962.

Cronkite went on to become the most significant journalist of the 20th century - the most trusted man in America. As The World Turns was airing on Nov. 22, 1963, when Cronkite broke in to tell a shocked nation that gunshots had been fired on President John F. Kennedy's motorcade.

Cronkite took off his glasses and paused as he announced Kennedy's death. He said he was choked up and struggled with his emotions.

The memorial at Missouri Western University chronicles the major events he brought to our living rooms. Through pictures and memorabilia, visitors can relive World War II, the civil rights movement and America's moon landing through his eyes.

Through interactive video kiosks, you can hear Cronkite's personal thoughts on powerful moments we'll never forget, including his unforgettable reaction about Kennedy's assassination.

"In a way, I guess, we are sort of like emergency crews, ambulance drivers or fireman or doctors in the operating room. When we are busy doing our jobs, there's no time for emotion. No time to think about how that is affecting you personally. You are simply too busy doing the job and trying to get the facts out to the public. It didn't really hit me until I had to read the actual words that President Kennedy was dead," Cronkite remembered as part of one of the displays.

Nov. 4 would have been Cronkite's 97th birthday. He died in 2009.

His coverage of the Vietnam War was pivotal, including when he urged for the United States to negotiate a way out. President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost Middle America."

His daughter said he would have loved this tribute to his illustrious career.

"He loved his birthday. He loved birthday parties, getting presents," she said. "What do you get the man who has everything? He loved presents and this is the best birthday party he could ever had."

The Walter Cronkite memorial is free and open to the public at the Spratt Hall Atrium at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph.

As he would intone, "And that is the way it is."

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