Friday, April 29, 2016

TOP STORY >> Sinise show on air base

Leader staff writer

“I’m just a conduit of the American people’s support of the military,” said Gary Sinise on Friday afternoon during a press conference at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band performed a free concert on base Friday evening. The band does about 30 shows yearly in support of wounded heroes, Gold Star families, veterans and troops with support from the Gary Sinise Foundation.

“Our defenders need to feel special. Because they are special. When I come up and I’m playing up there, quite often, it’s with the support of the American people doing that,” he said. “Same thing with the USO. The American people support the USO. And here we are teaming up with the USO.”

Sinise is well known for his performance as Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump,” which his band is named after. He was a founding member of the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, starring in performances such as the group’s off-Broadway debut production of Sam Shepard’s “True West” with John Malkovich.

His other films and TV shows include “Of Mice and Men,” “The Stand,” “The Quick and the Dead,” “Apollo 13” and “The Green Mile.” He also starred on “CSI: NY,” “CSI: Miami,” “Criminal Minds” and “Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.”

“Before I played the wounded soldier in ‘Forrest Gump,’ I had not worked with wounded veterans much,” Sinise said, referring to his 1994 role for which he was nominated for an Oscar. “Forrest Gump” starred Tom Hanks, and it brought international fame to Sinise. The film won the Oscar in 1995 for Best Picture.

“I had worked with Vietnam veterans going back to the ’80s, so I very much wanted to play the Vietnam veteran in ‘Forrest Gump.’ I had Vietnam veterans in my family. When the opportunity came to play Lt. Dan, I very much wanted to do that,” he said.

“That little story of Lt. Dan is a beautiful story of resilience that shows a whole bunch of Vietnam veterans (who) came home from that war that ended up as successful business people,” he said. “That story had never been told before of a Vietnam veteran. I very much appreciated playing that part.”

He says he sees Lt. Dan as someone who wanted to be a great general, who felt he should have died heroically in battle.

“He wanted to be a great officer. That part of that was kind of based on my brother-in-law, Lt. Col. Boyd McCanna Harris. I have no doubt he would have been a four-star general. He was just that kind of person,” Sinise said.

Harris, a Vietnam veteran, passed away in 1983 from cancer. He will be inducted into the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., Hall of Fame next week.

“It was after the movie opened that I got involved with our wounded,” Sinise continued. “Through the DAV, Disabled American Veterans. Then after Sept. 11, when we were attacked, I just wanted to do something to support our active-duty deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan so that they felt appreciated. I had spent so much time with Vietnam veterans and have a personal relationship with them within my own family I had a pretty first-hand look at what it was like for them to come home and be treated poorly and have the nation turn its back on them. The thought of that happening to the men and women who were responding to Osama Bin Laden, that was troubling to me.”

Sinise reached out to the USO and offered to serve in any way he could. He began going on “handshake tours.”

“I would kind of poke the USO and say ‘You know, I have a band, I could entertain,’” he said.

“They set up a tour for us, and I started taking the band,” he said. “I’ve done hundreds of shows now with the USO, without the USO, with other military charities. All of that work, it just kind of manifested itself into the creation of my own foundation. It was very, very clear to me that this was something I was going to want to do until I couldn’t anymore.”

The band is a program of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which has several programs including R.I.S.E., Soaring Valor, Invincible Spirit Festivals, Serving Heroes, as well as several outreach programs. “The programs for my foundation are for our troops and our veterans and our first responders,” Sinise said. “They do different things and they address different needs. For example, this program here (Lt. Dan Band) is just military support and appreciation that we do. We’re able to provide this service because the American people donate to the Gary Sinise Foundation. It allows me to come out and show my gratitude and support.”