We Need More Gary Sinises

He's Bob Hope for a new generation of military personnel

When Gary Sinise takes the stage — as he did recently at the Howard Theater in our nation’s capital — he is greeted with loud applause and wild cheers. “You can never do enough for those who defend us,” he tells the crowd, which is filled with veterans, families, friends, and fans.

“He understands the military’s service and sacrifice, and the USO is honored to call him more than just a long-time supporter, but a very dear friend.”

For Colleen Payne, a realtor in Fairfax, Virginia, Sinise is a hero. “I admire him so much. He continues to be selfless and altruistic for the cause.” The cause is our troops, our veterans — those who serve to defend our country. Payne will dance the night away, as Sinise plays bass and his Lt. Dan Band rocks the house to kick off this week’s G.I. Film Festival, a 10-day event in Washington featuring 78 movies, parties and panels.

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The music for the night covers hits from a range of genres and generations, including classics by Stevie Wonder, Journey, Bruce Springsteen, and The Police, as well as contemporary hits by Bruno Mars, The Band Perry, Dave Matthews Band, Beyoncé, and The Zac Brown Band.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” is a crowd favorite. So is “Chicken Fried,” particularly the line about: “May freedom forever fly, let it ring.” One touching moment is when the song “Hero,” made famous by Mariah Carey, is performed by the band as a tribute to all military personnel. At the end of the night, everyone is on their feet singing Lee Greenwood’s classic, “God Bless the U.S.A.”

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While Sinise is fondly remembered as veteran Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 film classic “Forrest Gump,” it’s the actor’s tireless work on behalf of the armed forces that continues to earn him so much praise.

“There’s only one Gary Sinise. He’s in a class all by himself,” says Brandon Millett, co-founder of the festival, adding that the actor and rocker is definitely the “Bob Hope of this generation. That’s what a lot of folks have called him. And it’s so completely authentic.”

The actor/musician started his Gary Sinise Foundation, whose mission is to “serve our nation by honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need,” in 2011. But what moved him into action were the 2001 9/11 attacks.

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“I began devoting much of my time supporting the men and women deployed in response to those attacks — the brave service members who, each day, protect and defend our great country,” Sinise explains in a letter on his site. “Having veterans in my own family, and having been involved with supporting our military veterans going back to the 80s and 90s, it was after that terrible day I decided to become much more active for our defenders however and wherever I could.”

He regularly performs as part of USO tours, hitting up to a dozen dates each year giving concerts from Germany to Japan, from Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to Kodiak, Alaska.

“Year after year he reaches out to the USO to plan his next trips. He understands the military’s service and sacrifice, and the USO is honored to call him more than just a long-time supporter, but a very dear friend,” Rachel M. Tischler, vice president of USO Entertainment, told LifeZette.com.

“The USO is fortunate to have entertainers like Gary Sinise, who like Bob Hope, raise their hand year after year to travel overseas and right here at home to entertain service members and their families.”

On the day before his Howard Theater concert, Sinise took his band to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for a private performance for wounded veterans, including food prepared by celebrity chef Robert Irvine and moon bounces for kids.

On May 29, Sinise will co-host (with Joe Mantegna) the National Memorial Day Concert, a beloved annual event held on the West Lawn of the National Capitol.

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“We just wouldn’t miss it,” Sinise told WTOP. “It’s one of my favorite things to do each year. It’s a great way to pay tribute to those who have sacrificed for our country … We have great performers every year.”

This year’s performers include The Beach Boys, the National Symphony Orchestra, and the final “American Idol” winner Trent Harmon, who will open the show with the national anthem. Retired General Colin Powell will also make his annual appearance.

The following day, Sinise will co-host the National Memorial Day Parade, including performances by Phil Vassar, John Michael Montgomery, and Tony Orlando.

“Freedom and security are precious gifts that we, as Americans, should never take for granted,” Sinise says on his website. “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 gratitude to our nation’s defenders, we can always do a little more.”

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