Walter Cronkite's UFO Sighting Bill Knell

He is the newsperson and anchor who reported some of the most exciting and traumatic events of the twentieth century to a huge television audience. From the assassination of President Kennedy, to the first men to walk on the Moon, Walter Cronkite brought us the news of those events over network television. He may also have been the first reporter to witness the biggest news story of modern history. Itís a story that remains untold.

As CBS Evening News Anchor for many years, Walter Cronkite was the friendly face on television that brought the good, bad or even tragic news of the day into the homes of millions of Americans. Because he did this before cable channels became such a big part of AmericaĎs television viewing habits, he was more than just a reporter, newsperson or talking head. Walter Cronkite became a trusted source of information and media icon.

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. Little is known about his personal life, but the fact that he managed to work in the highly competitive Network News business for so many years without being implicated in any scandals or mischief speaks volumes about his character.

During the early 1970s, nine of the top ten most watched television entertainment shows were on CBS. No one who knows television history would argue with the fact that CBS was a network television powerhouse during that time. That included their news division. In 1973, CBS News was seriously considering an investigative project about UFOs. Things were changing. People were growing weary of a steady diet of bad news thrown at them daily. The Vietnam War, antiwar protests, the Watergate scandal, terrorism and Middle Eastern conflicts were wearing viewers down. Any news organization that wanted to stay on top would have to offer people some alternatives.

Local news broadcasts, daytime television talk shows and late night radio programs had already experienced some success covering paranormal issues, events and stories. By the early 1970s, New Age topics had reached a high point in popularity that had been building for some time. Among subjects like Ghosts, ESP, Psychic Powers, Reincarnation, Atlantis and Pyramid Power, UFOs were the clear winner when it came to overall public fascination. Stores were filled with books and magazines about UFOs, aliens and the government cover up of those things. As a result, CBS decided that the subject deserved serious consideration and made a decision to go ahead with their UFO project.

Like the subject itself, the CBS News UFO project was going to be something very different. They planned to look at the phenomenon from the standpoint of witnesses, authors and investigators with little or no editorial comment. It would be an investigative piece, but the investigating would be left up to those involved with the subject. It was an intriguing concept that would likely capture the imagination of viewers and leave the network safe from having to take a stand on the subject either way.

After months of viewing previous television news stories about UFOS and aliens, a decision had yet to be made about how the project should be presented. Should it be a one-time special program, series of short investigative pieces or regular feature to be shown in segments during network news broadcasts on slow news days? No one was sure. The only thing those involved with the CBS News UFO Project had agreed on was that Walter Cronkite should be approached to do the sit down interviews for the project. Once those were in the can, that material would be viewed and a final decision on the project format would be made.

I had already been investigating UFOs for several years by 1973, despite the fact that I was just seventeen years of age at the time. I was living in Florida with my parents and attending high school at the time. Because of unexpected public interest in a UFO Club I had organized as an after school project for extra credit, I was presenting a few short seminars each month about my investigations for local libraries and civic groups. Because of my youth, the success of the UFO Club and overall public fascination with the topic at that time, our local newspaper decided to interview me for an article about area UFO sightings and encounters. That article resulted in requests for me to appear on a few local radio and television shows and news broadcasts.

One of the local radio personalities who had me on his show had read a few of the short pieces I wrote for my school newspaper. He enjoyed them and suggested I submit the articles to publications that print stories about UFOs and related subjects. Having written professionally for a few trade publications himself, he gave me a thumbnail sketch of how to submit my material for possible publication. As a result, I went back and cleaned up the old articles, wrote a few new ones and started sending them out for consideration. I was surprised when a few ended up being published. This lead to my ultimate contact with Walter Cronkite.

As it happened, 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 also included a few cases I had investigated. Cronkite was making a list of people he wanted to interview for the CBS project about UFOs and my article interested him. I never dreamed it would lead to a meeting with the legendary news anchor himself. I later wondered why? This was one of my first and most primitive attempts at writing and I was sure that he had read a thousand other articles by a thousand more qualified people.

In early September of 1973, I received a letter from CBS News indicating their interest in my work and desire to have me contact them about a television project they were planning. After a few phone calls, they offered to fly me to New York City to meet with Cronkite. As a transplanted New Yorker who had moved to Florida with my family a couple of years before, I was always glad to get back to the big city. I really liked Florida, but missed the pace and excitement of the Big Apple. I traveled there and stayed with relatives or friends whenever I could, so I was used to getting around the city by myself.

On a cool New York day in late September of 1973, I found myself back in the Big Apple and sitting down to an informal lunch with Walter Cronkite. For me, it just didnít get better than that and it was hard to avoid being a bit overwhelmed by the experience. It wasnít about being star-struck. Like most regular visitors to New York City, I was used to occasionally seeing celebrities out and about around town. I remember walking through the theater district in Manhattan early one morning during the mid-1970s. Richard Burton got out of a car five feet in front me. I stared; he smiled, waved and quickly disappeared into the back door of a theater where he was appearing in Equus. Likewise, I recall meeting a number of important people through my fatherís work as an Air Force Officer. I guess I was just in awe of this network news giant and more than a bit nervous.

I was surprised at how quickly the legendary reporter put me at ease. He had a gentle and laid-back manner that made me feel like we had known each other for years. I guess that was his gift and the thing that made Walter Cronkite such a successful news anchor. I appreciated the way he spoke with me as an equal, rather then treating me like some stupid kid. He seemed honestly interested in my UFO investigations and articles and appeared to genuinely respect my interest in the subject.

As we lunched, Cronkite told me what he knew about the CBS UFO Project and indicated that he wanted to interview me. He was honest in explaining that there was no way to tell how much or little of the interview would ultimately be used, if any. Regardless, he wanted a younger person"s perspective on the phenomenon for the project and liked the way I answered his questions up to that point. Most of the UFO researchers in those days were older and had taken up the topic as a Retirement project. Nevertheless, I also sensed there was more to this luncheon than he was letting on. He kept referring back to my articles on the government cover-up and asking about what I thought my father might have known about UFOs as an Air Force Officer. Then he dropped the bomb.

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.

During the 1950s (I felt that he was being purposely vague about the exact date or year), Cronkite was part of a small pool of news reporters brought out to a tiny South Pacific island to watch the test of a new Air Force missile. After a short inspection of the new missile 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 rapidly constructed just for this occasion. The details about the missile were going to be given to the reporters verbally now and in the form of handout 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 was 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 while an officer blurted out some prepared details about the new weapons system. 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 scene.

Without sharing any personal observations or feelings about the appearance of the object, Cronkite matter-of-factly stated that he guessed the object might have been about 50-60 feet in diameter, a dull gray color and had no distinguishing markings or visible means of propulsion. Because of the background noise generated by the missile engine and sudden flurry of activity, talking and shouting around him, he couldn"t tell whether the disc made any noise. He did not notice any coming directly from the object.

As Air Force Security personnel ran toward the UFO with their guard dogs, the disc hovered about 30 feet off the ground. It suddenly sent out a blue beam of light that struck the missile, a guard and a dog all at the same time. The missile had been frozen in mid-air about 70 feet from the launcher as it had taken off. One guard had been 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 all right, but were quickly taken away by medical personnel always present at tests in case anyone was injured. At the same time, Air Force Security personnel rapidly ushered the reporters into a nearby concrete observation bunker and control center. After about thirty minutes of sitting in that 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 were 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 didn"t believe the Air Force explanation then, and he still didn"t believe it at the time when he told me the story. >{? I was grateful for his brief comments about the incident, because he wasnít the type of person that enjoyed sharing personal viewpoints. He continuedÖ

After the event, reporters were told that since it was a test of media reaction to new technology, they could not report on it! However, they would be compensated later with exclusive stories on new Air Force projects (a promise that was probably never kept). The implication attached to that promise was that if anyone decided to report on the event it would be denied, could never be verified and would result in a blackout of information to any individual or news organization that took the risk of releasing the story in any way, shape or form.

I was sure that Cronkite felt safe in telling me about his experience. After all, I was just a kid interested in UFOs and who would listen to me? I was also sure it was his own personal revenge on the military for preventing him from releasing the story of the century. He knew I was likely to remain interested in the subject and would tell his story at some point in my life. And here I am doing that some thirty odd years later.

Being a very private person, Cronkite never did share with me his own beliefs about UFOs beyond the story he told me. Since he didnít believe the object that appeared during the missile test was something the government cooked up and felt it wasnĎt something that looked like it had been made on earth, I guess I can assume he believed it was made elsewhere. But then, if IĎm going to think like Walter Cronkite, I am not going to assume anything about what he said. Iíll just let the story stand and allow you to take from it what you will just as he did when he told it to me.

I probably could have asked him a million questions after he told me the story, but I got the impression that our meeting was over and wasnít about to challenge Americaís most famous News Anchor. Instead, I was deep appreciative of his willingness to tell me a story that I was certain few, if any, other people outside of his family had probably heard.

Looking back on the whole experience, I now realize what a wonderful gift Walter Cronkite gave to me by sharing his UFO encounter story. Any story or anecdote told to me in person by Cronkite would have been a gift, but this was more than just a bit special. Besides my previous observations, I think he did it as a way of thanking me for sharing so much of the information I had about UFOs with him. I didnít realize it at the time, but many of the stories and pieces of information I had collected from speaking with my fatherís military pilot friends were anything but common knowledge in the UFO investigative field. That would explain his many questions and interest in what I knew about the government cover-up.

The CBS UFO Project turned into a less than memorable Special that was filmed shortly after my meeting with Cronkite. I was included in it for just a few minutes. During the filming, I became aware that Cronkite had not shared his story with any of the other UFO investigators or witnesses. I gleaned that from the fact that none of them discussed it among themselves, with me or even mentioned it in passing. After the special aired, I called one of Cronkite"s staff members and asked him if he had ever heard the UFO story. He told me he had, but I am not sure about that. I think he was probably an over-worked intern just trying to get me off the phone and didnít have a clue what I was talking about. He said Cronkite had only shared the story with a few key people, but I think he was referring to something I had told him rather than visa versa. Either way, Cronkiteís Encounter story was certainly not covered or even mentioned in the Special. Nor anywhere else that I am aware of after all these years.

There was one last opportunity to find out if Cronkite had shared the story with any of his staff members. Just before leaving New York, there was a final meeting with each one of us who had been filmed for the CBS project. It was just a brief question and answer session to collect any missing background information about us or ask a few final questions off camera for screen quotes. I carefully hinted around at what Cronkite had told me, but none of the staffers asking the questions seemed to have a clue what I was talking about.

I was glad I had heard the story from Cronkite as a teen. I didnít get a chance to speak with him at any length before, during or after the filming apart from the interview itself, but I did get to hear some of the other interviews he conducted from a short distance. I was amazed at how full of themselves some of the other UFO investigators sounded. Cronkite simply let them drone on. Most of those interviews were several edited later. I wondered if that would be me years from that time? I hope itís not. I have tried very hard to apply the other thing I learned from my conversation with Walter Cronkite that day. Knowing the value of when to talk and when to listen.

BACK to Weird World

Book Titles We Highly Recommend - Informative and Fascinating - Helps To Support This Website

Unlimited Movies - $9.95 Monthly - ANY Movie - ANY Theater - ANY Day!!!