Actor Gary Sinise was named an honorary chief petty officer by Fleet Master Chief Petty Officer Michael Stevens during a ceremony at Aug. 24, 2012. He said it was an honor to be recognized in a "very exclusive club." (MC1 Curtis K. Biasi / Navy)
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Perhaps best known for his role as Lieutenant Dan, Gary Sinise has ties to the military well beyond his role in “Forrest Gump.”
Through the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Emmy-award-winning actor has raised almost $9 million to support veterans in need, including building homes for severely wounded vets. He’s also traveled the world with the USO, entertaining troops with the Lt. Dan Band.
Sinise will be honored for his wounded warrior support April 16, when the D.C. Metro chapter of Easter Seals presents him with an advocacy award.
The actor spoke with Military Times by phone March 26 about his career and why he’s made it a personal mission to help the troops.
Q. Lt. Dan continues to be a part of your life, both through your band and the lasting popularity of the movie. Nearly 20 years later, what does that role mean to you today?
A. I like the story of Lt. Dan because it’s a story of resiliency and overcoming challenges and losing your faith and regaining your faith. Lt. Dan is someone who wanted to be a great military leader. He never considered having his military career taken away because he was injured. Being an injured Vietnam veteran wasn’t something that was easy for him. He kind of became a recluse in a way, but through the support of a friend, he finds peace again and moves forward with his life and he’s standing up again at the end of the story. I think that’s the part of the story that I embrace, because I spend so much time with our wounded.
Q. You play electric bass in the Lt. Dan Band. Why that instrument?
A. I played bass years ago when I was a kid. When I started my theater company in Chicago, Steppenwolf, I got so busy with acting that I didn’t play for a long time. I picked it up again in the late ’90s, then eventually started traveling with the USO. After doing about five or six handshake tours, where I’d just go out and shake hands, I asked the USO if they’d let me take some musicians with me to perform for the troops, which they did. That led to more tours and more playing, and now the band is part of my overall mission to give back to our military and to entertain them and boost morale and raise money.
Q. Do you have a favorite memory of a USO tour stop?
A. So many. I’ve been to Afghanistan, Iraq several times, Guantanamo Bay, Europe several times, Asia several times, all over this country on dozens and dozens of bases over the years. I’ve been traveling with the USO with military support for 10 years now. I’ve just met extraordinary people, and that’s really the best part of it. I believe that these are our freedom providers, and we need to take care of them. When they sacrifice for us, we need to acknowledge that sacrifice, show our appreciation and try to do something to help.
Q. When you visit with troops, what’s the most common message you hear from them?
A. They always thank you for visiting them. I’m just there to show them my gratitude. That’s the reward for me — knowing that it seems to make a difference. We’re still at war and people kind of forget that, but we have thousands of troops deployed to Afghanistan, and that means there are spouses and families out there who are enduring these long deployments and worrying every day. My nephew is in Afghanistan right now. We’re always praying for his safety, and if I can show up and lend a hand a little bit, that’s a great gift.
Q. What’s up next in your acting career?
A. Right now, we’re waiting to find out if my television show, “CSI: New York,” is going to get picked up for a 10th season. We’ve completed our ninth season. CBS is trying to decide if we’re going to be one of the shows on their fall schedule, and I’ll wait until May to find that out. If we’re on the fall schedule, that’s what I’ll be doing. If we’re not, I’ll be looking for other opportunities.