My dad was always obsessed with keeping up with the news. When we returned from Thailand to the US to live in 1971, this meant that I woke up every morning hearing the news on the radio, and our dinners were accompanied by the CBS Evening News on TV, with Walter Cronkite.
I was only 9 years old, with little understanding of the events being covered. But I did know that my dad had been in Vietnam (as a civilian) for two years (1967-68). Back then I had understood even less – except to be quite clear on the fact that, although he was not shooting at anybody, he was in plenty of danger of being shot. Stationed in Vinh Long province, he had been caught up in the Tet Offensive, and evacuated (under fire) by US Marines.
In those years, Walter Cronkite ended every broadcast with a list of casualties, military and civilian, on both sides of the Vietnam war – so many hundreds or thousands injured or killed that day – followed by his famous line: “And that’s the way it is.”
I did not understand at the time that his dry recital of these facts was itself a commentary; he had reported his own conclusions about the uselessness of the war years before. All I knew was that each of those numbers represented someone’s loved one, someone’s daddy who had been in harm’s way, and not survived to tell the tale as mine had. I hated Walter Cronkite for the nightly reminder of those years of fear, and what I perceived as his callousness to those losses. But I never told anybody that; he was clearly venerated by everybody else.
When Saigon fell in 1975, I watched (live?) as the final US helicopters took off, leaving terrified south Vietnamese screaming and begging to be taken away. And I wept for all those who had not made it.