TODAY | March 26, 2013
>>> for 40 years, bob has brought us tales of remarkable people we might have otherwise overlooked. now he's revealing their road map to a better life in a new book called "american story." bob, good morning, nice to see you.
>> good morning. kind of strange to be on this side of it now, you know i mean? telling tales on television is a bit like writing on smoke. stories simply drift away. but some lingered. those that revealed what it took to be the best of america. drive a thousand miles in the back roads out here and you won't find one pair of designer jeans.
>> i have spent a lifetime crisscrossing this country, listening to your stories.
>> this old country, it's rocky as hell, but it's mine.
>> listening to ordinary people with thoughtful solutions, to challenges we all face.
>> never underestimate a small amount of money.
>> a chorus of voices that sing america's dreams.
>> how long did it take to sink in that you'd done the impossible?
>> probably when we were sitting in the oval office with president bush talking about bone fishing.
>> not just our quest for money or fame. a story of us.
>> i remember a lot of those stories. you could have chosen a lot of paths here at nbc news, but you chose to talk about these people and travel these less than traveled roads. why?
>> well, i came here and started in 1972 on a very big stage. i went to munich olympics and coffered the israeli tragedy, when the wrestling team was taken by the terrorists and killed. but i started to think, what's going on between the bright lights? and i met some people when i was out doing a story who said you know, we never see ourselves on television. and we don't hear our songs anymore. so i thought well, why not look in those corners?
>> resilience is one of the themes of a lot of your stories. it will be a lot like bob dodson word association , but i'll give you some terms. phillipsburg, montana. what did you learn there?
>> it's a little town out far from the rest of white house have figured out how to survive. there are 29 ghost towns all around. somehow phillipsburg has survived. they care more about their town than they care about themselves individually. they tax themselves $2500 a person just to fix up their old school. when the school superintendent got cancer, he goes off fishing, comes back and they present him with a check for $40,000. this is a place that's not rich.
>> an old fashioned community, though.
>> absolutely. it's the kind of place that makes you home sick for places you've never been.
>> you did a story on a paraplegic man named mark wellman . what did he teach you?
>> well, he was a park ranger who broke his back in a fall from a mountain climb. he actually taught me that, you know, you should not look at disabilities, but always at possibilities. when he got to the top of el captain with a broken back and a friend of his helped him, that was the beginning of the americans for disabilities act. that's how he got to see the president.
>> there was a guy you met along the path in these last 40 years, patrolman bill sample, and he's someone who really stuck with you, made an impression.
>> he was a beat cop still in his 40s. he had never taken a minute of overtime, because after hshift, he was taking care of little kids. he would take them down to disney world .
>> these stories that you found in these small towns. you're a guy who grew up in webster groves , missouri. you spent your summers in kansas. so was it as much that you found a comfort zone in these small towns as that you wanted to tell the stories of the people that lived there?
>> i just got the feeling that we were looking in the wrong places for answers and that sometimes wisdom doesn't wear a suit. and small town people remind me of that over and over again. they remind me of the values that we've always had. that's why i figured i'd go poke in those corners.
>> tell me about a guy named carl grossman .
>> carl grossman comes from a family of ten. eight brothers, all served in world war ii , six in combat. they all made it back alive. i met carl because he's the kind of guy you would pass by every day. he'd run out of money at age 90, so he went back to become a greeter at walmart. and yet carl grossman had saved over 2,000 gis in world war ii as a medic. he tried to get into medical school , didn't have enough money, so he went and sold cars. when somebody's car flipped over in front of the dealership where he was working, he saved that woman's life, too.
>> you traveled millions of miles, interviewed hundreds of people. i know that meeting those people has changed your american story. and bob, it's changed ours as well. we thank you. it's fun to reminisce and look through the pages of this book. thanks so much again, the book is called "american story."