Gary Sinise, famous for his roles in Forrest Gump, Apollo 13, and CSI: NY, has dedicated his life to "honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need."
He started the Gary Sinise Foundation to expand his efforts in 2011.
Since 2004, Sinise has teamed up Joe Mantegna to host the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS.
Forrest Gump changed Gary Sinise's life in more ways than one. Despite the fact that it was the first movie he made "that people actually wanted to watch," it inspired him to dedicate the next 30+ years of his life to service. The 64-year-old actor realized the movie's impact early on: "I remember going into the first hospital to visit a wounded soldier after September 11, and all he wanted to do was talk about Lt. Dan," he told Entertainment Tonight.
But the actor's relationship with active military members and veterans actually started before he starred alongside Tom Hanks in the Hollywood classic. As those who are a part of Sinise's generation, war is a topic that hits painfully close to home. Shortly after graduating from college in 1973, combat operations ended in Vietnam. Just a few years later, he met his wife, who later introduced him to her two brothers who had served in the Vietnam War.
Nearly two decades after that, Sinise put his feelings of wanting to help service members into action. Playing Lt. Dan Taylor, a soldier who was badly wounded in the Vietnam War, in the 1994 hit ultimately started his relationship with the Disabled American Veterans charity. Four weeks after the movie opened (and topped the box office), the charity asked Sinise to come to their National Convention. "They wanted to present me an award for playing what they considered a catastrophically injured veteran in a positive way," he explained on Pickler & Ben. "That story of a Vietnam veteran returning from war and being alright hadn't been told before."
And then 9/11 happened. Not long after, Sinise went on his first USO tour in June 2003. "I just wanted them to know that someone from the entertainment business that they see in TV and movies was thinking about them," he told FOX News in 2018. Several tours in, Sinise brought his band — aptly called the Lt. Dan Band — overseas to entertain the troops. "The reason I call it the Lt. Dan Band is because in the beginning nobody really knew who Gary Sinise was, but they all knew Lt. Dan."
With his new role in CSI: NY, the actor didn't have as much time to dedicate to his efforts — but he wouldn't let that get in the way of helping those in need: He started the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 to create and support programs to honor U.S. defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. "The reason I started the foundation is because I'm only one guy and I can only be so many places. I wanted to ramp up my activities," he told FOX News in 2018. "Even if I couldn't be there physically to support, we're doing events as the Gary Sinise Foundation."
Well before he had a foundation of his own, Sinise has shown his support at the National Memorial Day Concert on PBS. This annual 90-minute broadcast brings together Hollywood's biggest names, military families, and veterans to honor the brave men and women who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms. For over a decade, Sinise has paired up with close friend Joe Mantegna, known for his role as David Rossi on Criminal Minds, to host the event.
For what it's worth, Sinese doesn't mind if people — soldiers and veterans, especially — want to talk to him about Lt. Dan 30 years after Forrest Gump's debut. Why? "Lt. Dan is a part of my life in a way because I'm very devoted to our military, very devoted to making sure our veterans know we appreciate what they do. If they want to talk about Lt. Dan, that's fine by me," he told CNN in 2013.
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