Orlando, Fla., Aug 22, 2014 / 01:02 am
Actor Gary Sinise's respect and admiration for military men and women goes far beyond his role as Lieutenant Dan in the popular 1994 film, "Forrest Gump."
For generations, members of his family and his wife's family have served their country, which inspired Sinise to support veterans for years and ultimately start the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011.
This past year, the Knights of Columbus donated $200,000 to help build a "smart home" for U.S. Army Corporal Kyle Hockenberry, who lost three of his limbs in combat.
"They are a great, tremendous charitable organization and have demonstrated that for over one hundred years," Sinise told CNA Aug. 7, "so to get their support is very meaningful and appreciated by me and the members of my foundation team."
The words – "For those I love, I will sacrifice" – were tattooed on Hockenberry's side when he lost both legs and his left arm to an IED attack in Afghanistan. His new home, where he will live with his wife Ashley in Ohio, is custom-built to accommodate a wheelchair and other needs he faces.
"You have shown that you will be a shining light of hope for those who have served and sacrificed like Kyle Hockenberry when they are in their darkest moment," Sinise told the Knights in an address at their Supreme Convention in Florida.
In his touching and personal talk, Sinise told of his memories of veterans in his own life. A high school student during the Vietnam War, Sinise said he didn't fully realize the gravity of the sacrifices being made by his friends and family in the military at the time.
"I had been more interested in girls, a band I was involved in, just enjoying my freedom in life as a kid without thinking much about the cost of that freedom," he said.
But after spending time with the veterans in both his family and his wife's and listening to their stories, he felt compelled to take action.
"I let those early failures drive me for a new mission," Sinise said. "That mission is to have the courage to take determinate action for those who have sacrificed so much in defense of our freedom and liberty, and to stay that course no matter how the political winds may blow, or even though it might not be the most popular thing to do in the place you work or the circles you run in."
He started working with a local veterans group in the Chicago area in the 1980's, and saw the chance to play Lieutenant Dan as a way to serve veterans by telling an amusing story of a veteran who eventually succeeds in life after war. He continued serving veterans after the film by forming the Lieutenant Dan band and traveling to entertain troops.
"It is simply the right thing to do for those who volunteer to fight our nation's wars and we must learn the hard lessons from Vietnam and the shameful way our county treated our veterans returning from that war and ensure that that never happens again."
Sinise also told the story of the faith journey of his family, starting with his wife rediscovering her Irish Catholic roots and attending Mass regularly as a family. The Church became the family's sanctuary as the Sept. 11 attacks brought on a new war, and Sinise grew closer to the faith. In December 2010, he was officially confirmed in the Catholic Church.
"I see now that my work with veterans over the past 30 years and my journey being confirmed in the Catholic Church are very much a part of the same story."
Shortly after being confirmed, Sinise felt there was still more he could be doing to serve veterans.
"I felt called by God and compelled to use all the tools and notoriety that I had been blessed with and all the work I had done with the military over the years to serve in a more substantial way to create something that could be here for the long haul," Sinise said, and in 2011 the Gary Sinise Foundation began.
Besides building custom Smart Homes for numerous veterans, the foundation provides multiple programs and resources honoring and helping veterans and their families successfully adjust to life after combat. The partnership of the Knights of Columbus will continue as well.
"They made a commitment to helping us in the future and I'm very grateful for that, looking forward to a great teaming up of the two organizations in support of our veterans," Sinise said. "It's very important that we take care of these heroes."
Those interested in learning more about the Gary Sinise foundation can find more information on the website www.garysinisefoundation.org.