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Happy Birthday Uncle Sam!

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  • Happy Birthday Uncle Sam!

    Troy, NY, the home of Uncle Sam. This was a speech given by mayor Neil Kelleher to Congress in 1961.

    Gentlemen, I am going to leave research to the researchers, and history to the historians and address myself to another, and even more basic aspect, of the issue before you. I am satisfied that when you review the historical data that is being presented here today, you will agree that there is no room for doubt about where Uncle Sam Wilson lived and where he died and where he lies buried----in an all but forgotten grave. Troy’s claim to Uncle Sam is beyond dispute.
    But there is another and, as I said, an even more fundamental aspect to this issue. It might be expressed in the unspoken question which, I am sure, has suggested itself to some, if not all, of the members of this committee. You may well ask: With this Congress laboring to resolve the most complex issues, which reflect the crises which face our nation at home and
    abroad, why all this fuss about Uncle Sam? I should like to try to answer that question.
    There was a time when our country possessed immeasurable advantages over the rising tide of world Communism. We had the technology, we had the production know-how, we had the most advanced tools of peace----yes, and the most advanced tools of war, including the atomic and hydrogen bombs. But our ascendancy in all these fields has, little by little, been erased or at best reduced.

    And, as we pause from time to time, to assess the progress of the never-ending struggle for survival which we call the “Cold War”, we would do well to ask ourselves, bluntly and realistically: What do we have today that Communism does not have?
    It may be difficult to find a satisfying answer to this question in the areas of purely material progress. Nor is it surprising that Communism, the expression of materialistic philosophy, should be strong in material advantages. But there is a heartening answer to our question when we go a step beyond the purely material aspects of the struggle, into the spiritual aspects which, after all, in the long run, will resolve and decide the issue. What do we have that Communism does not have? We have our American heritage----a heritage that is reflected in our history, in our tradition, in every detail of the great success story that is the story of America. When Mr. Khrushchev shakes his fist and points to his rockets and his spaceships and his legions parading in Red Square, we can stand before the world and point to our American heritage ---- to our history and our institutions and our principles. And it seems to me, that the nations of the world and the people of the world, faced with a choice, will know which way to go.
    When Mr. Khrushchev shouts, “Look what we got,” we can reply, “Look what we ARE.:
    And since the Cold War is, in great measure, a struggle for men’s minds----a war of
    propaganda, if you will ----one of the most important responsibilities we have is to project the American image in every corner of the world.
    Gentlemen, we have that image ready-made. It’s Uncle Sam----that kindly, serious, honest
    old gentleman in his striped suit and tall hat. In the minds of millions here and abroad, he
    stands for all the virtues and qualities that are wrapped up in the American dream----honor,
    initiative, industry, opportunity, freedom, respect for the rights of others, and, above all,
    regard for the dignity of the individual. It's all there in that picture. And it's worth more in
    the world struggle than all of Mr. Khrushchev's spaceships and rockets and nuclear bombs.


    But here is the point we must not overlook. What makes the image of Uncle Sam important
    and vital and compelling, is that Uncle Sam is real. And the world needs to know that he is
    real. The world must be told that he is not a fictitious, shoddy trademark after the manner of
    an American advertising campaign. He is no cartoonist's whimsey. He is no Madison
    Avenue gimmick.
    Uncle Sam really lived. And from what we know of him, he embodied many, if not all of
    the qualities and virtues that make us proud of our American heritage. Not only is Uncle
    Sam a real, flesh-and-blood American, he is particularly representative of the things that
    have made America great----initiative, industry, business acumen, Yankee resourcefulness.
    Going even a step further, when you consider how the term “Uncle Sam” was coined, you
    find an eloquent representation of the partnership between private enterprise and military
    effort in one of the most critical moments of our history----the same sort of partnership that
    has made America mighty and respected---yes, and in the councils of the ungodly, feared.
    We, in America today, know something about how advertising and propaganda work. We
    know how difficult it is to sell an idea; any intangible idea or concept, until we clothe it in
    some image that people can see and touch. Well, the people of the world know Uncle Sam.
    And the better they know him, the more they will respect and love him. And in accepting
    him, they will be embracing all the principles that go to make up the good life.
    Our own people too, need to know Uncle Sam better. Every nation needs its heroes, needs
    the inspiration and pride that come from a healthy respect for its historical figures. From
    Uncle Sam, we all can get a deeper appreciation of the American way.
    I have just one more point to make and it goes to the heart of all that is being said here today.
    Never----I say it again, gentlemen----never forget that Uncle Sam is real. Let us not go off
    waving the picture and leaving the substance behind. Let us never forget that Uncle Sam
    had a last name too----and that name was Wilson. Let us never forget that Uncle Sam lived
    among us and worked among us and, when his time came, died among us.
    And need I suggest, gentlemen, that his resting place should command the attention and
    respect of the nation he has come to symbolize. Too long has Uncle Sam Wilson slept,
    almost unknown and unnoticed, on that grassy hillside overlooking the Hudson River.
    Of course we in Troy----whose forbears knew and worked with Samuel Wilson----we in
    Troy are proud of Uncle Sam. We have marked his grave modestly and have done what we
    could to make him better known. We feel that, in this effort, we have been doing what the
    American people would want to do, would insist upon doing, if they knew the story as we
    know it.
    And now we come, gentlemen, to the halls of Congress to ask you as the representatives of
    the American people to discharge a debt that is long overdue.
    Across the nation, we have federal installations of all kinds----among them, navy yards and
    arsenals and forts and missile bases and atomic testing sites----so many of them grim
    monuments to the unhappy aspects of our national existence. We have too few monuments
    to the more inspiring side.


    We ask you to add another to the roll. We ask that you create, if you will, a Shrine of
    Americanism at the grave of the man who has become----after the Stars and Stripes----
    America's greatest symbol.
    The military installations are necessary indeed, if only to help us stay alive. But the final,
    inevitable victory in the great world struggle will be won by ideals and principles----ideals
    and principles that are loftier than the highest space shot and more powerful than the most
    destructive bomb.
    I feel sure, gentlemen, that we can say without fear of challenge, that America will always be
    the leader of all nations in armed might, indeed in any field of material or productive
    ingenuity. Communism, the greatest threat to mankind, leaves no room for sentiment or
    nostalgia. Sentiment and nostalgia breed individualism. Individualism is a quality of
    Freedom. Here is where we need our Uncle Sam. Uncle Sam is the breathtaking feeling of
    pride that goes with the beat of the military band and marching men. Uncle Sam is the
    quiver in the lip as the picture of Surabachi flashes before our mind. Uncle Sam is the
    invisible resident of the tombs of the known and unknown dead of all our wars.
    Gentlemen, I can assure you, we have no selfish interest in our quest for recognition of this
    great American. We ask only, that you accept from us, this treasure that lies buried in a
    modest grave in Troy, New York. Recognize it, as it so richly deserves, and give it to all our
    That is the message Uncle Sam has for us today. That is the message that will be reflected at
    the shrine for Americanism over his grave in Troy, New York.

    Testimony by:
    Honorable Neil W. Kelleher
    Mayor of Troy, New York
    Hearing on Uncle Sam Resolution by the United States 87 th Congress
    July 11, 1961 2:00 pm
    Uncle Mickey: July 23, 1950-July 22, 2003

    WRPI, 91.5 FM...usually color commentary.