Actor Gary Sinise is best known for his role as Lieutenant Dan Taylor in the film “Forrest Gump,” but he’s also known for his devotion to helping America’s protectors who served and sacrificed. Sinise stated in a promotional video for the foundation in his namesake, “I’ll do anything for these kids, anything for the Gold Star families, so that they know we’ll never forget them.”
True to his promise, the Gary Sinise Foundation flew over a thousand children of fallen heroes to the “happiest place on earth”—Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. They enjoyed an all-expenses-paid holiday and “a little magic in their lives” for the Christmas Season.
Many thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes! I spent the day with family…and eating a little cake😀Also, just a…
At the busy Nashville International Airport, on Dec. 8, 2018, travelers paused to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” for the group of children. All of them had parents who were killed in combat. Then they boarded an American Airlines flight, along with their surviving parent or guardian, bound for the Sunshine state. This was to be the foundation’s “Snowball Express.”
“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,” wrote Jen Tringale, who recorded the emotional moment and posted it on Facebook. “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 beautiful.”
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
Gold Star families—immediate relatives of fallen American soldiers—commented on Tringale’s post:
One wrote, “My son and I were on this flight! I can’t begin to explain how much this means to us.”
Another commented, “My children and I are a part of this group, though we flew out of Atlanta airport! So thankful for American Airlines, Snowball Express Organization, and Gary Sinise foundation for putting this on for us. My late husband gave his life for this country in 2015, and since then we’ve just been surrounded by love and support from so many different organizations!”
Over 1000 Gold Star Children travel w/ surviving parent, 1,750 in all, via @americanair to Disney World today as part of our @GarySiniseFound Snowball Express program. This charter left LAX this morning. I’ll join up in a few days. Have fun kids! We love you! pic.twitter.com/OfMEpVF1er
— Gary Sinise (@GarySinise) December 8, 2018
Sinise later took to Twitter and shared a photo of the beaming faces prior to the takeoff. He tweeted out, “Over 1000 Gold Star Children travel w/ surviving parent, 1,750 in all, via @americanair to Disney World today as part of our @GarySiniseFound Snowball Express program. This charter left LAX this morning. I’ll join up in a few days. Have fun kids! We love you!”
Wishing Gary Sinise, Gary Sinise Foundation a Very Happy Birthday from Snowball Express.#HappyBirthday #HappyBirthdayGary #GarySinise #StPatricksDay
While at Disney World, the children were treated to five days of fun and leisure. They went on rides and participated in a variety of fun activities and entertainment. They were treated to a performance by Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band.
“They’re dealing with the grief and the loss of a loved one, a mom or a dad who have died in military service, and all these kids are going through the same thing, so the power of all of them in the same place at the same time, many of them—hundreds of them—was very healing for a lot of them,” Sinise told The Hollywood Reporter.
“You cannot underestimate the power of bringing all these kids together in a happy environment because we’re trying to bring joy to them right before the holidays, right before the Christmas holidays, which is a difficult time for a child who’s lost a parent—so bringing all these kids together at the happiest place on earth in Disney World was very, very special.”
The gold lanyards stick out among the crowd of 1,600+ family members, indicating that this is their first time…
The Snowball Express started in 2006 after a letter written by a fallen soldier to his wife was published in a newspaper. In the letter, he asked his wife to keep a promise they had made to their children: to bring them to Disney World.
In 2017, Snowball Express officially became part of Gary Sinise Foundation’s program.
“We are committed to maintaining the wonderful traditions while finding new and exciting ways to serve our families of the fallen,” states the foundation’s website.
#SnowballExpress / Can hardly wait for #Snowball2014!
Besides taking Gold Star families to Disney World, the Snowball Express also hosts events all year long, such as baseball games, camping trips, as well as arts and educational opportunities for grieving military families. They aim to “build bonds with the only people who can truly understand their loss: each other.”
“We have counseling, we have all kinds of communal activities that focus on the healing aspect of a gold star family member who’s grieving, but we also want to provide hope, happiness and joy,” Sinise said.
In appreciation of Sinise’s support for these families, actress Patricia Heaton retweeted about the trip, “Hey @TIME , why isn’t @GarySinise ever on the Person of the Year list? Hey @TheAcademy, why isn’t he ever picked for the #jeanhersholt humanitarian award? He raises $30M a year to build homes for wounded vets along with his #goldstarfamily support. Retweet!”
What do you think of Gary’s Snowball Express? Should Sinise get TIME’s Person of the Year, or what?!
Hey @TIME , why isn’t @GarySinise ever on the Person of the Year list? Hey @TheAcademy , why isn’t he ever picked for the #jeanhersholt humanitarian award? He raises $30M a year to build homes for wounded vets along with his #goldstarfamily support. Retweet! https://t.co/pj7BGEN7Ds
— Patricia Heaton (@PatriciaHeaton) December 10, 2018
Watch the video: