One of Gary Sinise’s more iconic movie roles was as Lt. Dan Taylor in Forest Gump. In this Oscar-nominated role, Sinise portrays Taylor as a soldier who lost both his legs while fighting in Vietnam. For the last 20 years, Sinise has used Lt. Taylor as his inspiration in helping disabled veterans and their families.
The Gary Sinise Foundation is a nonprofit group dedicated to raising money for veterans initiatives. Last month he took 50 servicemen and women from Walter Reed, Fort Belvoir and Naval Medical Center San Diego on an all-expenses paid trip to Hollywood. This started with a private charter plane and a police escort once in Los Angeles. At first it was a day free of charge at Disneyland with a guide to circumvent the long lines. The group then went to Forest Gump’s home, Paramount Studios. There they were treated to a flyover from a pair of P-51 Mustangs and a special screening of the movie. There were also appearances by the movies Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis and Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks.
Finally, the trip concluded with a performance by Gary Sinise’s band, which as you probably guessed, is called the Lt. Dan Band. “After the injuries and all that, it feels like you can’t go out in the world anymore,” said Staff Sgt. Michael Irish. “All you want to do is be in a dark room and just sleep it off … and now with Gary and his organization helping us … to have fun and be yourself, that’s very important to all of us.” Army Sgt. Kevin Gatson, who is an amputee that spent three and a half years recovering at Walter Reed, said:
I don’t feel like I have limitations. I feel anything I want to do, I’m able to do. All it takes is me saying I’m going to go do it.
Despite being in a wheelchair, he is a member of a hockey team. Triple amputee Bryan Anderson admittedly grew bitter and distant after losing an arm and both legs in Iraq. Meeting Sinise helped to change his attitude. He said that Sinise portrayed the role of Lt. Dan in a good way despite the obvious frustrations that come with being confined to a wheelchair. “There’s a hopeful ending to the story of Lt. Dan that all our wounded veterans want … that story that they can be standing up again and moving on with life and doing all right,” Sinise said. “The whole purpose is to send them home smiling. They should know that there appreciated and that’s what we’re trying to do here.”