He’s perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated role as Lt. Dan Taylor – the man with “magic legs” – in “Forrest Gump,” and has received acclaim for supporting roles in “Ransom,” “Apollo 13” and “The Green Mile.” He’s also the star of TV’s “CSI: New York,” which keeps him very busy.
But since 2003, Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band have entertained U.S. servicemembers and their families throughout the world, performing on USO tours of military installations. Sinise also has toured military hospitals, visiting with wounded servicemembers and their families. Sunday night, the Lt. Dan Band was the entertainment during the welcome reception at the Road to Recovery – an event sponsored by The American Legion and the Coalition to Salute America’s Heroes – at Disney’s World Swan Resort in Florida.
Prior to an afternoon sound check, Sinise took time to talk to American Legion Multimedia Editor Steve B. Brooks about his support of U.S. servicemembers.
Steve B. Brooks: You’ve played at all five Road to Recovery events. How did you first get involved?
Gary Sinise: I got involved in 2004 when the Coalition was just getting started, and that was just a couple years after I started to actively support our military and our veterans. I had been involved with Vietnam veterans groups for many years prior to that, but after Sept. 11, when we started deploying our troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, and we started having injuries and KIAs, I just wanted to pitch in and help. I started doing a lot, and various folks would approach me all the time, asking me to come and support something they were doing or getting started. At the first conference, somebody who knew me and knew what I was doing contacted me.
Q: What is it that’s kept you coming back year after year?
A: They’re doing good stuff for our wounded heroes. I just want to help them do more. I don’t do all that much throughout the year, but I donate my band... for the conference and do various PSAs to help them promote what they’re doing.
Q: What is it about the mission of the Lt. Dan Band that is so important to you personally?
A: The band is part of a broader mission to do what I can to help keep these servicemembers and their families strong in difficult times for our country. It’s very clear, if you’re paying attention out there, that it’s a very dangerous world, and it does not look like it’s going to get less dangerous as time goes on. So we’re going to continue to call on our defenders to do difficult and dangerous work around the world to prevent another very serious attack on our homeland. You saw on Sept. 11 what 19 men with box cutters could do. These defenders are out there, around the world, to make sure this doesn’t happen again. They are serving and sacrificing, and their families are going through very difficult times. I value the freedom I have in this country, and that freedom has been paid for by others. It’s the least I can do to go out there and visit the hospitals... entertain them here and abroad, lift their morale. That’s one way I can give back, and it’s a good feeling to know there’s something I can do.
Q: Visiting these hospitals, you’ve probably had chances to talk one on one with some of these wounded servicemembers. Are you amazed by the fortitude these soldiers are showing, and maybe by the resiliency these wounded soldiers exhibit?
A: It takes a very special kind of person to want to go into harm’s way. What makes somebody want to go to war, to join the military – especially in a time when they know there’s a 95 percent chance they’re going to be deployed to someplace dangerous? Those are special individuals, and we’re lucky to have them. We have over 300 million people in our country, and it’s like .5 percent of the population actually defends our country in military service. They all join for various reasons, but they join knowing that this is a dangerous world and they may be deployed to someplace dangerous to do the hard work. You need these folks, and I’ve met thousands of them over the years. It’s always humbling and impressive.
Q: You mentioned the small percentage of the population serving in the military. Do you think that the average citizen – not maliciously, but perhaps unknowingly – takes for granted exactly the protections being giving by this .5 percent of the population?
A: We absolutely do. Unless you know someone personally serving in the military – you have a relative who’s over, or a friend – you don’t know what they’re going through. Most people go about their daily lives in this country not really feeling that there’s a need to sacrifice anything in this war because it’s a different kind of war that what we’ve ever faced. If the stories of these sacrifices and what we’re going through are not on the front pages every day, the average American citizen pretty much goes about their daily lives worrying about types of things: paying the bills, their families and what not. That’s one of the differences between, say, now and what happened during World War II. Everybody in World War II felt the need to sacrifice and was asked to sacrifice. They knew it was an us-or-them situation. This was a world war going on. Our backs were against the wall. It’s a different type of war now. We don’t ask the average American citizen to sacrifice.
Q: Regardless of political view or stance on the war, the American public has a responsibility to support its servicemembers, doesn’t it?
A: Sure. Every president deploys these troops somewhere. Track your history. Is there a president in the last 100 years who hasn’t had to deploy our military somewhere? No. Every one of them has had to face some serious threat. That’s the way the world works. We all like to say, ‘Hey, let’s just hope military conflict away. Let’s just wish it all away.’ That’s not the way world is. Sometimes we have to face the reality that military deployment is the only thing to do. We as a country and a citizenry, who benefit from the freedom that we have and from the defenders we have who are on the front lines... owe it to these folks to try to at least show our gratitude and our appreciation. Whether you’re a democrat or a republican, every president is going to be faced with deploying these troops somewhere.
Q: How much longer do you see the Lt. Dan Band performing?
Q: I do not know, bud. Right now we have almost 20 shows set up between February and May, and probably 12 of those are for the troops somewhere. I’m on my television show, but I try to fit in as many weekend shows on bases as I can. I’ve played so many concerts that I can’t say the number of them anymore.