“Thank you, thank you for what you do, and have fun today,” actor Gary Sinise said as he shook hands and posed for photographs with soldiers, spouses and their dependents Saturday for a meet-and-greet at Fort Stewart.
Sinise and his cover band, the Lt. Dan Band, named for the disabled Vietnam veteran he played in the movie “Forrest Gump,” entertained troops and military families at Walker Field during a family fun day. Sinise and his band are part of the USO across America tour. The actor, 56, who plays bass, said his band does 40 shows on average each year for the military community. Some of their shows also help raise funds for disabled veterans groups, he said.
“I always say we can never do enough for our veterans,” Sinise said. “We can always do more.”
Army Reservist Jennine Harvey and her husband, Sgt. 1st Class Joe Harvey with the 1st Heavy Brigade Combat Team, waited their turn in the heat to meet the star of the TV crime drama “CSI: NY.” The Harveys said they are big fans.
“I want to thank somebody that actually appreciates the military. It means a lot,” Jennine Harvey said.
In an interview before the free, outdoor concert Sinise spoke about what sparked his support of the military and first responders.
“I have family around me that I admire for serving,” Sinise said. He said his brother-in-law served in Vietnam, and he had two uncles who served in World War II. His grandfather was in the Army and his father served in the Navy, he said.
Sinise said he began volunteering with veterans groups in the early 1980s, and then became involved with disabled soldiers after his role in Forrest Gump. He said like so many Americans he also “felt the hurt” after 9/11, and he continued to be moved by troops’ sacrifice “when families started losing loved ones,” in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The actor said having a role on TV allows him time to volunteer.
Sinise said he hopes CBS picks up an eighth season of “CSI:NY” so he can continue to perform for troops on weekends. He added he’d like to someday portray the late Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, a Medal of Honor recipient. Doolittle planned and led America’s first air raid on the Japanese home islands during World War II.
“It’s a story worth telling,” Sinise said.
In addition to his band, Sinise co-founded Operation International Children, originally Operation Iraqi Children, in early 2004 with Laura Hillenbrand. Hillenbrand wrote “Seabiscuit: An American Legend.”
Sinise said what began as a grass roots organization, with him collecting school supplies and other necessities at his children’s school for deployed soldiers to distribute, has grown into an international outreach effort. He said having troops distribute “tools of learning” to war torn villages helps build good will.
Sinise also was executive producer of the documentary film, “Brothers at War,” made by his “buddy” Jake Rademacher. Sinise said Rademacher’s two brothers are in the military, and Rademacher wanted to understand their lives as soldiers deployed to Iraq. The movie also depicts how the brothers’ service affected their families back home.
“People (soldiers and their families) can see themselves on the screen. It helps to open a dialogue,” Sinise said.
The documentary was shown at Fort Benning and the actor hopes it will be shown here.
The actor is also working to establish a national monument to honor the sacrifices made by injured soldiers.
“That kind of honor and tribute is long overdue,” he said.
“We have a lot of wounded out there,” Sinise continued. “Eventually they’re going out into life. That’s why we can’t let them fall through the cracks.”