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Honoring Those Willing to Make the Ultimate Sacrifice

Matt Vilkas - 700 Club Producer

Gary Sinise said, “You sign this ultimate clause when you go into the military and that is that you're willing to give your life.”

John 15:13 (NIV)
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
-Jesus Christ

In his book, Grateful American, Gary Sinise explains why he believes he’s been given a life-long mission to honor and serve those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.  He shared with me [CBN Reporter, Scott Ross] how it all started.

Gary explained, “I have veterans in my family, on my side of the family and my wife's side of the family.  And I got to know them. And back when we started dating, back in the mid-70s, early '80s, and they had an enormous effect on me. They just, talking to them about their experiences in Vietnam and what it was like to go there and serve, the difficulties that they faced, the challenging things they faced in combat.  And then to come home and have another battle going on, because at that time, the nation was divided over the war. And the Vietnam Veteran were kind of the victims of this division that was happening.  And it was a shameful period in our history the way we treated our Veterans.  And I felt a lot of compassion for our Vietnam Veterans at that time, so I started supporting them in various ways in the '80s, and getting to know them. And visiting the local VA hospitals, talking to Veterans who were struggling with Post Traumatic Stress.  That had a gigantic impression and impact on me. And then, in 1993, after I did Of Mice and Men as a film, the filmmakers saw that, the film makers of Forrest Gump saw Of Mice and Men. They asked me to come and audition. And so, I read it, and it was for the part of a wounded Vietnam Veteran.”

“Wow,” replied CBN Reporter, Scott Ross.

Gary continued, “And I thought, ‘There's something at play here. Maybe this is, maybe like Forrest Gump talks about and Lieutenant Dan talks about, it's kind of a destiny thing.’  It truly was life-changing in, not only my career, but just in setting the stage for what would come later on in terms of my work with Veterans.”

Another defining moment would change the world.

Scott said, “Fast forward, 9/11.  I was there within 36 hours. Spent three weeks there at the pit, sitting surrounded by the rubble, the smoke, and everything, and body parts.” Holding back tears, Scott asked, “How did it affect you?”

Gary said with eyes wide opened, “Everyone, our hearts were broken.  Our, we were scared. You know, we didn't know, ‘Was this the beginning of more attacks? What was going to happen?’  And I remember going to our little church, our little Catholic church, and it was packed! Everybody was looking for, we all wanted something to help us get through this experience.”  Getting choked up, Gary continued, “And I remember the priest coming out, and I remember the first thing he said was, ‘This is,’ in his homily. He said, ‘This has been a tough week.’”

Scott somberly replied, “Yeah.”

Gary continued, “And that, that really hit me, because it had been such a tough week. And I don't remember everything he said, but I remember my heart just breaking. It was just breaking.  And then I remember hearing, getting this, just feeling this call to service as a great healer; to help heal that broken heart.”

For Gary, that meant supporting our military.  So, in 2003, he went to Iraq with the United Service Organizations to encourage them personally.  Later, he also visited those wounded fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Gary said, “I walked in and the first place I went was a room and it was filled with about 30 service members, all off the battlefield with various wounds, but they were the kind that were going to get, they were going to be patched up and sent back to the battlefield. I looked around the room, there were all these thousand-yard stares. Guys had, you know, they'd been in battle and they were, they were dealing with some serious stuff.  And then one of them looked at me and he, and he started screaming, ‘Lieutenant Dan!’”

Gary and Scott laugh as Gary continued, “He starts screaming, ‘Lieutenant Dan,’ and he recognized me under my U.S.O. hat, and then somebody else looked up and somebody else looked up, and then the whole mood in the room just changed!”

Inspired by their response to his on-screen character, Gary tapped into his rock-n-roll background and formed the “Lieutenant Dan Band.”

Gary explained, “First stop we went was way down in the middle of the Indian Ocean to an island called Diego Garcia and we have like B-1 bombers down there and, you know, there's a naval base and everything.  And it's way out, it's very hard to get to. I mean, it takes like 24 hours to get there. And so that's where the USO sent us first!”

Gary laughed and said, “And I always wondered, you know, ‘Well, maybe they sent us so far away, just in case we couldn't play.  Nobody except the people on the island would hear us.’”

Both men laughed as Gary explained, “But, they also sent us, after that we went to Singapore and then we went to Korea. So, we did about seven shows on that tour. And it went great.”

Since then, Gary has done over a hundred shows for the U.S.O. and other organizations. He also created The Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 to help service members and their families.   One of the many ways is by building smart technology housing for disabled vets.  

“We want to do everything possible to make that home less challenging and give you the opportunity to be more independent,” said Gary.

But the outreach that grips his heart the most is taking children of fallen heroes to Disneyland.

Gary somberly explained, “Many of the kids had either t-shirts with the faces of their fallen loved one, their mom or dad, whoever it was that they'd lost, and they may be from these little towns around America and they're the only kid that has a military parent who's been killed.  And they can't relate to anybody. And then they come to that event and there's 1,000 other kids that are going through the same thing and it's very powerful.”

As Gary brings a sense of family to many service members, he’s grateful to them for protecting our freedom, and to God for the mission to honor and serve them.

Gary said, “Our faith has been a great source of strength.  I pray for our service members, and the more I found called to service, the more I believed that there was something else at play. And now, I have no doubt that I'm being led in certain directions.”

Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
-Paul the Apostle

Guest Name / Person Interviewed or Featured in Article or Video: 
Gary Sinise
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