Friday, February 13, 2015

Gary Sinise Turns Gratitude into Service

At Acculturated we like to highlight the good work celebrities do rather than dwell on the usual scandals and misbehavior, and there is arguably no celebrity who currently devotes himself more to good works off-camera than actor Gary Sinise.

Gary is familiar to most fans as the disabled vet Lt. Dan Taylor from Forrest Gump and more recently as Detective Mac Taylor from the crime drama CSI: New York, which ran from 2004 to 2013. In addition to Gump, his movie career includes Of Mice and Men (which he also directed), Apollo 13, The Green Mile, and Truman, not to mention tons of television and voiceover work.

But (if you’ll pardon the corny segue) Gary’s most important role has been in service to America’s military. He has done, and continues to do, more for our servicemen and -women than any celeb since Bob Hope. “Freedom and security are precious gifts that we, as Americans, should never take for granted,” Gary writes on his foundation’s website. “We must do all we can to extend our hand in times of need to those who willingly sacrifice each day to provide that freedom and security. While we can never do enough to show gratitude to our nation's defenders, we can always do a little more.”

Gary has done a lot more. Since 2011, the Gary Sinise Foundation, “committed to ensuring the sacrifices of our brave men and women are never forgotten,” has launched the construction of custom-built, automated “smart homes” for America’s severely wounded heroes. The homes help accommodate the physical challenges faced by those vets and give them some degree of independence. As an emotional example of just what an impact that has had on our wounded warriors, check out this video interview in which a quadriplegic vet tearfully expresses his gratitude to Gary for helping get him and his family into one of the smart homes.

The Foundation’s Relief & Resiliency Outreach program “provides complete support to military and first-responder families recovering from trauma and loss during times of urgent need.” The Foundation hosts its own Invincible Spirit Festivals, day-long celebrations designed to boost the morale and spirits of the patients, their families and the medical staff at military hospitals across the country. Among the Foundation’s other initiatives is its Serving Heroes program, through which it provides hearty meals to our defenders across the nation. 

The average fan isn’t aware that Gary is also a rocking bass player for his own cover band, the Lt. Dan Band (tagline: Honor. Gratitude. Rock & Roll.), which has performed hundreds of shows to service members and their families all around the world for over a dozen years. I’ve seen them live, and they’re not merely hired hacks backing a self-indulgent celebrity. They’re all talented musicians who put on a fun, high-powered show.

He volunteers for the National Veterans Art Museum. He is on the Advisory Council of Hope for the Warriors, a national non-profit dedicated to providing non-medical care to combat-wounded service members and their families, as well as to the families of fallen warriors. He is the National Spokesperson for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. Though he never served in the military himself, Gary was made an honorary U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer for his efforts in helping veterans and was named an honorary Marine. 

In 2004, Gary and Unbroken author Laura Hillenbrand co-founded Operation International Children, which began as a program to enable Americans to send school supplies to Iraqi kids, but which has since expanded its reach to children around the world, including the United States (after hurricane Katrina).

Amid all this service (and those examples are just the standouts), the Oscar-nominated actor’s career still flourishes. After nine seasons as the lead in CSI: New York, it was announced last month that Gary will star in a Criminal Minds spinoff for CBS. He is in talks to be cast in next year’s superhero flick Suicide Squad.

I am honored to know Gary personally, and I can tell you that he is a down-to-earth, kind, church-going family man (married to Moira for over thirty years, with three children) whose quiet humility is extremely refreshing in Hollywood.

Acculturated hands out a Celebrities Behaving Well Award each year to a deserving star. If we were ever to bestow a Celebrities Behaving Well Lifetime Achievement Award, Gary Sinise would be the clear frontrunner.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 2/10/15)