After Playing Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump” Gary Sinise Devoted Himself to Helping Veterans, and the Reason Is Really Moving
Gary Sinise is an American actor best known for playing Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump, as well as appearing in Apollo 13 and CSI: NY. His famous role would eventually awaken Sinise to the reality of what real veterans go through and inspire him to give back, in various ways, for over 30 years.
We at Bright Side always like to shine a light on those who give back, so we’re sharing the story of how Gary Sinise continues to find ways to support real-life veterans.
War was constantly part of the backdrop while Sinise was growing up. The Vietnam War was ending as he was finishing college, members of his family, including his future wife’s brothers, had even served in the war. All around him, news stories would give him brief glimpses into what was going on, but being uninvolved directly, he found that life would always find ways to distract him.
Despite distractions, Sinise looked for ways to give back to the veteran community while he was just starting out as an actor. While working at a Chicago theater, he started putting on shows that focused on the war for local veteran groups who were more than willing to give him feedback and even became his friends.
Through the veterans who saw the show, Sinise even got involved with raising funds for memorials and to support veterans in the audience. One Marine in particular, Tom Luberda, helped him raise money to build a memorial in Lansing, Illinois. As a reward, Sinise’s brother-in-law, Boyd, who had been an inspiration for him, was honored in the memorial.
The Vietnam War would prove an important part of Sinise’s career as an actor... since his big break would be playing Lt. Dan in the 1994 film, Forrest Gump. Although he had been too young to serve in combat himself, Sinise would find that playing the character helped him get a closer look at the lives of the Vietnam War veterans he knew and get a glimpse of what they went through both during the war and what they faced afterward.
Just a few weeks after Forrest Gump was released, Sinise was invited by the Disabled American Veterans charity group to their National Convention. They felt that the movie was one of the first times a story about a Vietnam veteran was really being told, especially what they faced when they returned home, and they wanted to present Sinise with an award. This experience would serve to inspire him to use his talents and new connections in the entertainment industry to give back to veterans.
Shortly afterward, Sinise helped co-found the Lt. Dan Band cover band, who got to work putting on shows for the USO. The band was named after his famous character, since the actor himself thought people were probably more familiar with the character, than Sinise’s own name. Over the years, countries as varied as Kuwait, Afghanistan, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Korea, and Japan, would host the band.
Over the years, Sinise also made sure to make time to visit wounded soldiers in the hospital, where he was often flattered to learn his movie character was a source of inspiration for a lot of real-life veterans. Eventually, these visits extended to support all kinds of “everyday heroes,” like firefighters.
In 2011, the actor would eventually start the Gary Sinise Foundation which is dedicated to giving back to veterans, first responders, and their loved ones. The organization also hosts various events for veterans, like the Invincible Spirit Festival and mentorship retreats. Many of these events are actually done in partnership with Disabled American Veterans, allowing Sinise to team up with them again!
For at least 12 years, Sinise has also teamed up with Joe Mantegna, known for his role as David Rossi on Criminal Minds, to host the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS, where they honor men and women who’ve sacrificed their lives in combat.
Even after 30 years, Sinise says that he’s happy to still talk about the character when he meets with many real-life veterans and heroes... it helps that it’s a good “icebreaker.”
Do you know people who have given back to veterans or ways people can do so? Let us know in the comments!
Preview photo credit Forrest Gump / Paramount Pictures, Wiese / face to face / FaceToFace / Reporter / East News