Gary Sinise was prepared to play Lieutenant Dan Taylor on “Forrest Gump” long before he was offered the role.
The now 63-year-old appeared in the 1994 film, which depicts the presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson, as well as the Vietnam War, Watergate and other crucial moments in U.S. history through the perspective of an Alabama man (Tom Hanks). Sinise plays Taylor, an Army officer who loses both of his legs in Vietnam.
Sinise told Fox News he didn’t hesitate to take on the iconic role. Prior to the audition that would forever change his life, Sinise was already working closely with Vietnam veterans and had created Vets Night, a program offering free dinners and performances at the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.
“A full 10, 12 years [before filming], I’d been working with Vietnam veterans in Chicago,” he explained. “I had supported them in various ways, so when the opportunity came up to play a Vietnam veteran, a wounded Vietnam veteran, with a positive ending to his story, I very much wanted to do that. And I was blessed to be able to get that part and be in such a popular film, a good film. Lieutenant Dan has meant a lot to me.”
Sinise was nominated for an Oscar in 1995. And while he lost it to Martin Landau for “Ed Wood,” the role has continued to reward him in many ways.
Since the making of “Forrest Gump,” Sinise has continued to dedicate his life to supporting the American troops. Throughout the ‘90s, Sinise worked on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans organizations. He also embarked on several USO handshake tours in 2003 and then formed the Lt. Dan Band in early 2004.
Sinise and his group then began entertaining the troops serving at home and abroad. Lt. Dan Band now performs close to 30 shows a year at military bases, charities and fundraisers supporting wounded heroes.
Then in 2011, the star established the Gary Sinise Foundation. According to its website, its mission is “to serve and honor our nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need by creating and supporting unique programs that entertain, educate, inspire strengthen and build communities.”
Not only does the foundation build custom Smart Homes for wounded veterans, but it also serves meals to deploying troops and hosts events at military hospitals.
Sinise said America’s real-life heroes still recognize him as Taylor — and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I found out that when I started visiting our wounded in the hospitals and walking into those hospitals, they would look at me and they would recognize me as Lt. Dan,” he explained. “They wouldn’t know what my real name as, but they’d call me Lt. Dan.”
Sinise added the countless wounded veterans he’s encountered over the years found inspiration in Taylor.
“They [wanted] to talk about the story of Lt. Dan and how positive it was at the end for him,” said Sinise. “He’s recovered at the end. He’s standing up on new legs. He’s moving on with his life, and every one of our wounded soldiers, every one of our wounded service members, they want that story. They want to be able to move on and be OK. And that’s just what I’m trying to help them do.”
And Sinise’s efforts to give back is far from over. His foundation has teamed up with MotorTrend TV for their “Barrett-Jackson LIVE” car auction, which will take place Friday in Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale, Ariz. There, Sinise will help auction off a custom 1981 Jeep CJ7, built by Richard Rawlings and his Gas Monkey Garage team, with 100 percent of the hammer price going to the foundation.
“We wanted to provide a reliable, trusted resource for the American people to support our veterans,” said Sinise. “… We want to pass on the generosity to American people, to our veteran community, our first responder community, our Gold Star families, our wounded. And so, the sale of this Jeep… the full price is going to support the Gary Sinise Foundation and our many programs.
“So whoever buys this Jeep is going to really be helping a lot of our defenders and their families,” he continued. “And we can never do enough as far as I’m concerned to support them. They’re out there every day defending our freedom, sacrificing each and every day. … We want to do everything that we can to show our appreciation.”
Sinise’s love for the American troops run in his veins. Sinise has veterans in his family going back to World War I. His grandfather, who served during the Battle of the Argonne in France, transported the wounded from the battlefield. His grandfather later had three sons and two of them served in World War II. Sinise's father served during the Korean War in the Navy. And Sinise’s wife of 38 years, Moira Harris, also has veterans in her family that she cherishes.
Sinise stressed that the many wounded veterans he’s encountered over the years have taught him crucial life lessons. And because of them, Sinise insisted he will never stop being there for them and doing whatever possible simply to say thank you.
“I’ve seen them multiple times over a period of two, three years sometimes, in various stages of their recovery,” said Sinise. “I’ve seen their families standing by them, day in and day out, enduring these long rehabilitations, sometimes multiple surgeries. I’ve met guys that have had over 200 surgeries. I’ve been inspired by their resilience and never quit attitude, and that has been a big motivating factor me — to continue to go out there and support these families.”