It’s common to hear about celebrities taking on philanthropic causes. But it’s not as common to hear of them making gestures that go beyond charitable donations. That’s exactly what actor Gary Sinise has done.
Recently, Sinise took on the enormous gesture of flying the children of fallen soldiers out to Disney World for Christmas. And it wasn’t just a few kids — it was more than 1,000 children of military members.
It’s an absolutely enormous personal gesture for someone to make.
Of course, where children go, parents and other family members have to go along, too. All in all, Sinise’s donation brought about 1,700 military family members to the “Happiest Place on Earth” for a holiday celebration.
“Each one of these children who are going on these airplanes have lost a parent in military services — either combat-related or illness or unfortunately suicide sometimes,” Sinise said. “We wanna take care of these kids and make sure they know we don’t forget.”
The massive trip took 15 planes to transport the nearly 2,000 people to Florida, bringing the Nashville airport to a standstill during a layover.
The families were greeted with a massive show of respect at their flight gate.
“At the Nashville airport, I walked out into the concourse to this scene,” passenger Jen Tringale posted on her Facebook page. “But when they announced them over the loudspeaker and they lined up to board the plane, the whole airport literally stopped and sang the national anthem with a military presence in salute. Most every person standing around, myself included, was bawling at the sight of these kids and spouses who have paid so great a price for our country.”
Sinise is known for his respect for military members and has hosted charitable events for them in the past. He’s also well-known for playing a soldier himself, having starred as Lt. Dan Taylor in 1994’s “Forrest Gump.”
Since then, he has continued to star in military-themed movies, including “The Green Mile” and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”
Sinise’s performance as the gravelly alcoholic lieutenant-turned-shrimp-boat-captain who lost his legs during the War in Vietnam is still remembered almost a quarter-century later. The role won him a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. It also further inspired him to actively support veterans through charitable donations. Many servicemembers were touched by his performance and reached out to him.
Sinise said Lt. Dan has had a more profound impact on his life than he ever expected. The actor also realized the impact that the role had had for active military service members. He visited a wounded soldier in the hospital after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, and he was surprised that the soldier wanted to talk about Lt. Dan.
But Sinise has held the needs of veterans close to his heart since the early 1980s when he became interested in supporting the needs of veterans from the Vietnam War.
Sinise took part in Vets Night, a program that put on performances and served dinner to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. He also was an active member of the Disabled American Veterans Organization.
In 2004, Sinise began the Lt. Dan Band, a touring band named in honor of his famous “Forrest Gump” character. The band tours throughout the year, performing for American troops at home and around the world, as well as raising money to support military causes.
Sinise also is the founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation.
The foundation provides smart homes for disabled veterans. It also does veteran outreach and fundraising events and provides free meals.
The award-winning actor has a simple reason why these causes are near and dear to his heart.
“Freedom and security are precious gifts that we, as Americans, should never take for granted,” Sinise said. “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 our gratitude to our nation’s defenders, we can always do a little more.”
The actor’s Christmas gift to the bereaved families is part of the foundation’s Snowball Express program. The foundation has provided fun and activities for all the visiting families, including a performance by the Lt. Dan Band.
Sinise said he also recognizes how important it is for bereaved children to connect with others who have gone through similar experiences.
“When we bring all these kids together, they get to bond with each other,” he said. “It’s very, very healing, and they see that they’re not alone going through this grief by themselves and other kids are going through the same thing. We just give them a lot of love and a lot of joy and make sure that they know that they’re appreciated and that we don’t forget what they’re going through.”
Why Disney World, in particular?
Because it’s an important holiday tradition in Sinise’s own family. The actor said he’s brought his children to the park many times over Christmas and wanted to extend the same happy experience to military families.
“Forrest Gump” might be 25 years old next year, but it’s clear that Lt. Dan won’t soon be forgotten — either by Sinise or the veterans he supports.
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I witnessed an international airport come to a complete stop today … At the Nashville airport I walked out into the concourse to this scene @americanairlines was flying a plane full of children who had lost a parent in combat, to Disneyworld on an all expenses paid trip and they threw a party for them at the gate❤But when they announced them over the loud speaker and they lined up to board the plane the whole airport literally stopped and sang the national anthem with military present in salute. Most every person standing around, myself included was bawling at the sight of these kids and spouses who have paid so great a price for our country. To see all of this at Christmas time was so humbling. Seeing the general public in an airport stand still to honor these kids was simply beauitful. @bna_airport #nashville #fallenwarriors Gary Sinise Foundation #america #snowballexpress #christmas Garysinise
Posted by Jen Tringale on Saturday, December 8, 2018