Billy Graham, Through The Years

Billy Graham headshot
This column was written by CBS News Early Show Co-Anchor Harry Smith.
Billy Graham is in New York this week for what many believe will be his last crusade. It's expected 70,000 people will attend each service.

All told Billy Graham's folks say the old preacher has spoken in front of more than 200 million people over the last sixty years, including me.

Click here to listen to MP3 of Harry Smith's commentary.

I was ten years old when I first heard him speak. It was at a convention for a Christian youth group. The year: 1961. Billy Graham preached about the Cold War during a time we were still practicing duck-and-cover in the classroom. And when Graham began to unload his thoughts about the fires of a nuclear conflagration, I was scared. I mean nightmare scared.

"The burning fires of nuclear war would be nothing compared to the inferno of eternal damnation," he said.

That kind of talk will get your attention.

I would hear Billy Graham speak several more times in my teens. And since I was well-practiced by then at having my soul saved, I didn't answer the altar call - the invitation at the end of every sermon to come forward, confess your sins and pledge your love to Jesus.

About twenty years ago, I met Billy Graham for the first time. If you're a Protestant, it's a little like meeting the pope. He was generous and smart, witty and very friendly. We did an interview that he remembered today when I saw him again. His eyes are the same clear blue. His smile a little weary but real. He knows his sermons this week may be his last. And he's at peace with that.

Harry's daily commentary can be heard on manyCBS Radio News affiliates across the country.

By Harry Smith