Introduction: See the USA.
See the USAPeter Lind Hayes met and fell in love with Mary Healy when they were contract actors for 20th Century Fox in 1940. When the United States entered World War II, he became an entertainer in the U.S. Army Air Corps. After the war, he opened for singer Dinah Shore at the Copacabana in New York, which led to his hosting the radio show, “Inside U.S.A. with Chevrolet.” His wife joined him, forming a comedy team. This led to the duo singing a radio jingle commercial for the car company that sponsored the show.
In your Chevrolet
America is asking you to call
Drive your Chevrolet through the USA
America's the greatest land of all!
Leo Corday and Leon Carr wrote the jingle for the couple's radio show. Carr later wrote a jingle for Peter Paul candy. (“Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't/ Almond Joy's got nuts/ Mounds don't.”)
But it was the Corday-Carr collaboration, “See The USA In Your Chevrolet,” that Hayes and Healy sang. The song captured the nation's post-war optimism. It would become the signature song for Dinah Shore, who sang the automotive anthem with unabashed enthusiasm on her television shows in the 1950s.
And why not? The 1950s were a great time for her and for our nation. She had been a hit singer in the 1940s who gained a weekly show on TV, as the new entered the public mainstream. We had come out of the Depression, beat the fascists, Nazis and Japanese imperialists in the war, and built the greatest economy on Earth. With economic growth came social change. America tackled racial segregation for the first time since the end of Reconstruction.
Meanwhile, states were pouring corridors of concrete as an affluent people built highways, and moved out of the crowded, polluted, and politically corrupt urban centers of the nation. Farms gave way to tract housing. Suburbs blossomed. Upward mobility brought physical mobility and the automobile industry boomed. Of course you would want to see the USA -- and see it in your Chevrolet. America really was asking you to call.
Now, more than 60 years later, imagine an American car company daring to say, “America's the greatest land of all.” The critics would mock such an advertisement as xenophobic, or even racist. Such an ad might hurt international sales. America today is not what it was in the 1950s, when we elected a four-star general president. In 2008, we elected a man who refused to put his hand over his heart during the national anthem. Later, as president, Barack Obama said, dismissively, “I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
However, with all due respect, our president is simply wrong in denying American exceptionalism, and sadly so are many Americans who, after decades of jaded instruction of United States history, have a distorted view perception of the American legacy. For two generations we have drilled into our children the imperfections of America without offsetting that with the enormous and overwhelming good our nation has done, is doing, and will do again for the world.
Nevertheless, the United States is the beacon of hope to the hopeless, and it continues to attract millions of people; 60 years after Ellis Island closed in 1954, foreign-born citizens are 13% of our population. They come for the opportunity for a better life for themselves and their children.
As for the rest of the Western Hemisphere, the results are not the same. Except for Canada, none of the other countries are in our league socially or economically. The reason for the difference is freedom. Americans are not smarter, wiser, more attractive, or in any way, shape or form better than any other people on Earth. What made America better is the opportunities citizens have to use their talents as they see fit. We built our nation on capitalism, an economic system founded on individuals who are free. Fascism, communism and slavery, a form of feudalism, require repressing their people. The self-reliant individual is a threat to those economic systems.
During the Cold War, pundits said America won the Space Race to the moon because our German scientists were better than Russia's. That's not true. Our German scientists were no better than theirs. Ours may have even been slightly inferior as Russia had first dibs. The difference was ours had the freedom to think without fear of going to the gulag if they were wrong.
However, we live in a time when that freedom is slipping. In the media, they marginalize conservatives. In the laboratory, they ostracize skeptics of global warming. At colleges, they ban speakers liberals do not like. They distort the history of our great nation to fit the agenda of those who wish to transform our revolutionary democratic republic into another failed socialistic state.
The purpose of this volume is to remind my countrymen of the greatness of our nation. Years of cultural dismissal of our past have exacted a toll. But Andrew Breitbart, the conservative firebrand who died too young, said that in order to win politically, we must win back the culture. My humble contribution to the cause is this tribute to our great heritage.
The public education system has failed to teach this. It is up to responsible people who know the full story to pass along our knowledge of the past to our children and our children's progeny. We should be unapologetic in our praise of the many good men and women who built this nation. She may not be perfect, but she is better than all the rest. Greek exceptionalism? You have to go back thousands of years to find it. Not so our country. It lives on today.
However, we cannot stop at the few presidents carved into Mount Rushmore. We must pay homage to the millions of people helped this nation succeed. Unlike the nations of Old Europe, we are not a nation of a few exceptional men, but a nation of millions of exceptional people, of all colors, who availed themselves of this nation's opportunities. Therefore, instead of looking at George Washington, I chose to look at the man whose portrait of him enshrined his memory. Instead of looking at Lincoln, I chose to look at the man who made him president.
Then there are the men we should know more about. John Adams said of John Hancock, “When will the character of Hancock be understood? Never. I could melt into tears when I hear his name.”
Let me correct that.
Most of the people in this volume are dead white males, as they were the group given the most opportunities for most of this nation's history. However, as opportunities for women and for people of other colors open, their representation among America's heroes and heroines will rise.
This project grew out of my blog, when in November 2014, I began a daily feature of vignettes on exceptional Americans. After more than 30 years as a newspaper writer, writing editorials for the last 27 of them, this series made writing fun again. My profiles in this volume are really little feature stories, like the ones I wrote in my early days, when I was a general assignment reporter. As I researched my subjects, I learned along with my readers, who began asking when I would compile my vignettes in a book.
This volume is not rah-rah patriotism. America made many mistakes. But bear in mind that the histories of all nations are bloody. What distinguishes America is that despite the inherent evil of man, our nation continues to tap into the goodness of man.
For the cover, I chose Archibald MacNeal Willard's inspirational painting, “Spirit of '76.” Completed barely a decade after a Civil War, it displays patriotism without apology. The boy looks to the old man for guidance, and the lad sees grit, determination and reassurance in the old man's eyes. This inspires him. They march forward, to a future whose only certainty is that America will prevail.
That is what I hope readers of this book will do. I want them to give this book to their grandchildren to read about the ordinary people who did extraordinary things because those people were given the chance to do so. Remember, we have the right to the pursuit of happiness -- not to happiness itself.
Now to see the USA. And yes, eventually, we'll see it with Louis Chevrolet.