Gary Sinise, the award-winning actor known for his role as Lieutenant Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump, has just released his new book: Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service.
Grateful American details Sinise’s life as an athlete, musician and actor, to how he became a champion of veterans’ causes.
Giving Vets a Voice
Sinise is a longtime supporter of veterans organizations. In the early 80s he created Vets Night, a program that offered free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.
He felt especially drawn and connected to the military community after the 1994 reception of Forrest Gump. His role as Lt. Dan, a double amputee coming to grips with his new life, skyrocketed his reputation among disabled veterans. Lt. Dan is a figure in popular culture that they can recognize and identify with, and Sinise helped bring him to life.
Lt. Dan also represents the era of veterans that went unrecognized. His bitterness over how Americans treated returning Vietnam veterans resonated with viewers across the nation.
In fact, this caused Sinise to form a lasting relationship with the Disabled American Veterans organization, and later found the Lt. Dan Band, in which he plays bass guitar. They perform on USO tours at bases around the world and raise money for disabled veterans.
“A full 10, 12 years [before Forrest Gump], I’d been working with Vietnam veterans in Chicago,” Sinise stated.
“When the opportunity came up to play a Vietnam veteran, a wounded Vietnam veteran, with a positive ending to his story, I very much wanted to do that. Lieutenant Dan meant a lot to me.”
A Life of Devotion
After the September 11 attacks, Sinise was even more determined to honor the sacrifices of service members and their families.
The leader of his church held a memorial where he talked about selfless service, volunteerism, and support in times of need. This inspired Sinise to begin actively volunteering and campaigning for veterans and wounded warriors.
He is on the Advisory Council for Hope For The Warriors, the national spokesperson for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, and co-hosts the National Memorial Day Concert in D.C. with actor Joe Mantegna. Sinise has been named an honorary Navy CPO and an honorary Marine, among many other commendations for his work.
In 2011, he established the Gary Sinise Foundation, which offers unique programs to help veterans, first responders and their families. The foundation builds smart homes for wounded veterans, serves meals to deployed troops, and boosts the spirits of patients and families at military hospitals.
“I do spend a lot of weekends on the road. I have to pace myself. It can be pretty busy, but I’m not out in the Afghan desert with 70 pounds on my back, away from my family for a year at a time,” Sinise said.
“I keep a good perspective on it.”
Sinise has a personal connection to service as well. His grandfather was wounded in the Battle of the Argonne in France. Then, two of his grandfather’s sons served in World War II. Sinise’s father was a sailor during the Korean War.
Through his family, and the many service members, first responders and families he has helped in his career, Gary Sinise has a deep love for the military community; and they love him, too.
His efforts have recently been met with this video, featuring Tom Hanks, Ron Howard, Joe Mantegna, Jay Leno and many more. It offers heartfelt messages from those who are thankful for Sinise’s dedication to veterans everywhere.
The video shows families who Sinise has directly impacted. Retired Gen. Colin Powell makes an appearance. Entire fire stations stand up to thank Sinise, as well as veterans who have been assisted through the Gary Sinise Foundation’s RISE Program.
One vet, standing in front of his home, says, “We wouldn’t have had [this house] were it not for your kindness, graciousness and your wonderful gift of giving.”
Gary Sinise built his acting career from the ground up. He founded Steppenwolf Theatre and forged its success, and went on to act in many successful films, including Of Mice and Men, Truman, and Apollo 13.
Helping veterans was never about money or notoriety for Sinise; it was his tremendous sense of selfless service, and respect for the brave men and women in the U.S. military. Through his life and work, we can all learn what it means to be grateful Americans.
Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service is now available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other book stores nationwide.