By 1989, I was deep into my career in technology journalism, and Micron ( MU) was a very important company on that beat. Steve Appleton, who started on the Micron factory floor in 1983, the same year I became a tech freelancer, became president of Micron in 1991, and CEO in 1994.

Like Neuharth, Appleton was a larger-than-life character with a big idea, namely that America needed to survive in the commodity end of the microchip business. That we could survive.

Micron makes memory chips, which have a brutal product-and-profit cycle. It took a man with iron nerve and discipline to pilot such a company far from Silicon Valley, and piloting planes was one of Appleton's escapes from those tensions. It was a small plane crash that took his life, in February of 2012, explained here by Bloomberg. He was 51.

Even before his death, however, it was apparent that Appleton's dream required adjustment. Made in USA alone wasn't good enough. Appleton took over rival, Texas Instruments' memory chip business in 1998, and that of Toshiba in 2001, then cut his Boise workforce repeatedly to reduce costs.

This continued after his death. Wikipedia says Micron is now the largest shareholder in Inotera, a Taiwanese memory chip maker, and last year it bought Japan's Elpida out of bankruptcy. It now holds 24% of the global memory chip market, although most of those chips are actually made in Asia.

Still, it's the image that counts. USA, USA, USA. And USA Today. And it's the image that remains after the men who crafted those images are gone from us.

At the time of publication, the author had no investments in companies mentioned here.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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