National Press Club

Actor Gary Sinise forms foundation to aid disabled veterans

July 1, 2011 | By Richard Lee | rf-lee@earthlink.net

Actor Gary Sinise announces the formation of the Gary Sinise Foundation to benefit disabled veterans.

Actor Gary Sinise announces the formation of the Gary Sinise Foundation to benefit disabled veterans.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

Actor-activist-patriot Gary Sinise announced the formation of The Gary Sinise Foundation at a National Press Club luncheon June 30.

The Foundation, with a newly assembled staff and offices located in Los Angeles, is a culmination of Sinese’s decades-long efforts with the USO, Disabled American Veterans, Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, Operation International Children and various other groups to give aid, comfort and, just as importantly, recognition, to disabled war veterans and their families for the sacrifices they made, and continue to make, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re a staff-specific mission,” Sinise said. “We’ll be working with a lot of different organizations.”

Sinise, who stars in the hit CBS series, "CSI: New York," is probably best known for his Oscar-nominated performance in the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump,” in which he played Lt. Dan, a commanding officer who loses both legs in the Vietnam War.

The Foundation announcement coincides with the July 4 release online and on pay-per-view of “Lt. Dan Band: For The Common Good,” a chronicle of the musical journey Sinise and fellow musicians took to far-flung, often dangerous war zones to entertain the military.

When the film is downloaded, one out of every four dollars will go to The Gary Sinise Foundation. For details, go to www.LtDanBandMovie.com

The Jonathan Flora film was screened at the Club on June 29. It, too, was an outgrowth of Sinise’s memorable portrayal in the “Forrest Gump” movie, which won Tom Hanks a Best Actor Oscar and also won the Best Picture award.

Sinise and his wife, Moira, are both from families with long histories of military service. But, as Sinise told his sold-out audience, he was like many Americans growing up in the Sixties.

“The Vietnam war was a distant war,” he recalled. "I was not really paying that much attention.”

But in 1980, in Chicago, when Sinise saw a group of young Vietnam veterans perform a play they had written that was based on their war experiences, “a tremendous feeling of guilt and sadness came over me,” he said.

Sinise subsequently directed another Vietnam-themed play at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company he co-founded in Chicago.

“It left a lasting impression on me, and I have stayed involved with veterans ever since,” he said.

Sinese has been honored by both Democrat and Republican presidents for his efforts. In 2008, he received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian honor, “for exemplary deed performed in the service of the nation.” Sinise is only the second actor among the 110 people who have received the award.

Sinise’s guests at the head table included Kevin Wensing of the USO, Art Wilson, chief executive of Disabled American Veterans, and Mary Eisenhower, president and CEO of People to People International and granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower.

Answering questions from President Mark Hamrick at the end of his remarks, Sinise said he “has no interest at all” in running for political office.

But he did urge Congress to step up its support for returning veterans facing difficulties.

“Cut through all the red tape, all the bureaucracy, and just get down to business,” Sinise said. “The government can only do so much, I realize that. But it shouldn’t take forever to get your benefits. There are a lot of veterans in need out there. We have three million of them who are disabled. The country must take responsibility, find that returning warrior a job. That community support is critical.”

Sinese is becoming accustomed to being referred to as Lt. Dan by the disabled troops he visits.

“It’s just something that happened, that movie," he said. "It was so popular, ‘Forrest Gump.’ About a month after I did the film, I got introduced to the Disabled American Veterans. They liked the way I did it. They saw it as a kind of therapy for shattered veterans. He’s successful. He goes on with his life. So how could I say, ‘Hey, don’t call me that’? The character is alive for them. How can you not be grateful for that?”