Walter Cronkiteís UFO Encounter
Written By: Bill Knell
Heís the Newsperson that was there during some of the most history ó making
events of this century. From the JFK assassination to the first steps of human
beings on the Moon. Walter Cronkite was the Reporter who covered those and so
many other important events.
As CBS Evening News Anchor for many years, Cronkite became a part of many
American families as he brought us the news in a straightforward and fair
manner. No matter how he felt personally, you never saw that during his
broadcast. He did this all before cable TV became such a big part of viewing, so
for many he was more then just a Reporter. Walter Cronkite became a trusted
friend of almost all who viewed his work.
Despite the fact that he electronically-entered millions of American homes
almost every night of the week for so many years, Cronkite was and is a very
private person. We know little about his private life and most things you read
in that regard are merely guesses or here say. The fact that he managed to work
in the Network News business for so many years without being involved in any
scandals speaks volumes about his character.
CBS was making a special documentary about the UFO Phenomenon in 1973. By the
early 1970s, the UFO topic had reached a high point in popularity that had been
building for over 25 years. Bookstores were filled with UFO books and magazines.
CBS decided that the subject deserved serious consideration and planned to look
at it from the standpoint of witnesses with little or no editorial comment.
For CBS to prepare a special program about UFOs during those times was not a
decision made lightly. The Network was at the height of itís audience influence
and everything they did was watched (literally) by the whole world. After months
of planning, Walter Cronkite was approached with the idea. Though the program
was to be hosted by several CBS News reporters, Cronkite would do the
By 1973 I had already been investigating UFOs for several years. I was
presenting several seminars a month on the subject and had already been involved
with the media. Although I hadnít written any books, several articles I wrote
were used by various newspapers and magazines around the world. As it happened,
Walter Cronkite read a small piece that I wrote for a now-defunct UFO
publication. The topic of the article was the Air Force cover-up of UFO
information and a few cases I had investigated. Cronkite was making a list of
people he wanted to interview for the CBS special and the article interested
In 1973, I received a letter from CBS News indicating their interest in my
work. After a few phone calls, I was able to meet and speak with the man
himself! On a cool New York day in late September of 1973, I sat down and had an
informal lunch with Walter Cronkite. By then, I had learned not to be
star-struck by anyone. Because of my fatherís position as an officer in the Air
Force, I had met a lot of important people. Still, I was in awe of this News
Giant! The funny thing was that his manner was so gentle and laid-back that
within a few minutes I was completely at ease. I guess that was his gift and the
thing that made him such a successful news anchor.
As we lunched, Cronkite told me about the TV Special and indicated that he
wanted to interview me. He wanted a younger personís perspective on the
phenomenon. Most of the UFO researchers in those days were older and had taken
up the topic as a Retirement project.
Cronkite was very interested in some of the Air Force stories I had collected.
He was especially interested in the fact that I had grown-up in an Air Force
family as a person interested in researching UFOs. After about 30 minutes of
talking, Cronkite said to me, "Let me tell you my UFO story." For the next five
minutes I sat in stunned silence as he told me what had happened.
In the 1950s Cronkite was part of a pool of News Reporters brought out to a
small South Pacific island to watch the test of a new Air Force missile. After a
short inspection of the new system by the reporters, they were lead to an area
that was a safe distance from the launch site. The missile was mounted on a
specially-built launcher that was attached to a cement base. It was obvious that
the area had been quickly built just for the test. The details about the missile
were going to be given to the reporters in he form of hand-out sheets and press
releases after the test.
Cronkite mentioned that he and the other reporters had been warned that
photography of the missile test and any audio transmissions or recordings by the
press were forbidden. They would have to give a written account of the event.
Just as the test was ready to proceed, everyone was writing as fast as they
could. As Air Force Security personnel walked around the perimeter of the test
area with guard dogs and the news reporters watched, the missile was fired-up
and about to be released. Just then, a large disc-type UFO appeared on the
Cronkite guessed that the object was about 50-60 feet in diameter, a dull grey
color and had no visible means of propulsion. Because the noise of activity
around him and the missile engine was so loud, he couldnít tell whether the disc
made any noise. He did not notice any coming directly from the object.
As Air Force guards ran toward the UFO with their dogs, the disc hovered about
30 feet off of the ground. It suddenly sent out a blue beam of light which
struck the missile, a guard and a dog all at the same time. The missile was
frozen in mid-air about 70 feet from the launcher as it had taken off. A guard
was frozen in mid-step and a dog frozen in mid-air as it had jumped at the disc.
Cronkite reminded me that this all happened within the space of about five
minutes or less.
Suddenly, the missile exploded! After that, the disc vanished. The guard and dog
looked alright, but were quickly taken away by medical personnel always present
at tests in case anyone became injured. At the same time, guards rapidly ushered
the reporters into a concrete observation bunker. After about thirty minutes of
sitting in that hot box, they were brought out into the air again and addressed
by an Air Force Colonel.
The officer told them, "It was all part of the test." Obviously making it up as
he went along, the Colonel said that the event was "staged" to test media
reaction to UFOs. He reinforced the usual line to the reporters that Flying
Saucers were probably not extra-terrestrial, but what people were actually
seeing was secret planes being tested by the Air Force. This test was designed
to show the media how "shocking" it could be to suddenly view a new technology.
Well, Cronkite was certain that what he viewed was a new technology, but he was
also sure it was not an Earthly one. He didnít believe the Air Force explanation
then, and he still didnít believe it at the time when he told me the story.
After the event, reporters were told that since it was a test of media reaction
to new technology, they could not report on it! But, they would be compensated
later with exclusive stories on new Air Force projects (a promise that was never
kept). Being as private as he was, Cronkite never did share with me his own
beliefs about UFOs beyond the story he told me. I was so happy to have heard the
story that I was afraid to ask anything further.
The CBS UFO Special was filmed shortly after my meeting with Cronkite and I was
included in it for just a few minutes. During the filming, I became aware that
Cronkite had not shared his story with most of the other UFO investigators or
witnesses. After the special aired I called one of Cronkiteís staff members and
asked him if he had ever heard the UFO story. He told me he had. Cronkite had
only shared it with a few key people and it was NOT covered or even mentioned in
I wondered why Cronkite had chosen to tell me the story without telling
everyone? The staff members told me that most of the others were so busy telling
him about themselves that he just never bothered. I guess that the greatest
lesson the legendary newsman taught me that day was the art of conversation,
knowing when to talk and when to listen!