Recalling the scene on a 2007 CBS special in honor of his 90th year, Cronkite choked back tears as he said softly, "Anchormen shouldn't cry."
From that point on, the public largely viewed Cronkite as solid and reassuring as he guided viewers through some of the most tumultuous times in U.S. history, including the 1968 assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.
As early as 1966, Time magazine had called the anchor "the single most convincing and authoritative figure in TV news."
Years later, as the Watergate scandal unfolded, CBS was careful to credit Washington Post sources and carry White House denials. But the 14 minutes that Cronkite devoted to "the Watergate caper" on Oct. 27, 1972, made it "a real national story," Halberstam wrote in "The Powers That Be."
In the early 1970s, an opinion poll identified Cronkite as the most trusted public figure in America. Pollsters repeatedly used him as a benchmark to measure public trust in presidential candidates, and he led all contenders for years. His influence was said to rival presidents, and at least twice his name had been floated as a presidential running mate.
More than a decade after Cronkite left the evening news for retirement, a survey named him the "most trusted man in television news."
Colleagues nicknamed him "Old Ironpants" for his ability to sit in the anchor chair -- the day Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969, Cronkite reportedly was on the air for 18 straight hours.
He displayed boyish enthusiasm for the space program, which he called the biggest story of the 20th century and "one of our last great adventures." He also saw it as an upbeat escape.
The 1960s were "the worst decade of our history perhaps, including the Civil War," Cronkite said in a 2001 CNBC interview, yet at "Cape Kennedy, everybody was not looking down despairingly. They were looking up. . . . It made a difference in our country."
Once the Russians had launched Sputnik in 1957, Cronkite was quick to realize space would be an important TV story and schooled himself in astrophysics. His mastery of the subject amused him because he had failed first-year physics at the University of Texas.
From Apollo 11 forward, Cronkite anchored space coverage with Walter Schirra, an original Mercury 7 astronaut with whom he got along famously on camera and off, which gave pause to colleagues who often complained that Cronkite hogged air time.
When the lunar module, the Eagle, touched down on the moon in 1969, Cronkite wiped his brow and reverentially confessed he had nothing to say. He was "overwhelmed, like most of the world," he told Esquire magazine in 2006.
The anchor cut short a vacation to helm coverage of President Nixon's 1974 resignation and anchored a 14-hour celebration of the nation's 1976 bicentennial. Two months after Iran took more than 50 Americans hostage in 1979, Cronkite reflected America's obsession with their plight by closing the newscast with the number of days they had been held.
The hostages' release after 444 days coincided with President Reagan's inauguration on Jan. 20, 1981, and Cronkite called it "one of the great dramatic days in our history."
It was the last overarching public drama over which he would preside. He stepped down from the evening news six weeks later.
Faced with turning 65, Cronkite "thought it was time to ease up," he said in a 2004 Orlando Sentinel story. "I had been fighting deadlines since the age of 16."
Roots of his career