Nearly 25 years ago, actor Gary Sinise captivated the hearts of many with his portrayal of Lieutenant Dan Taylor—a veteran who lost both his legs during the Vietnam War—in the Oscar-winning film Forrest Gump.
In the movie, Lt. Dan Taylor is Forrest Gump’s (played by actor Tom Hanks) commanding officer during the Vietnam war in 1967. Mired in bitterness, depression, and hatred, Lt. Dan was angry over his injuries for a long time. He blamed Forrest for rescuing him against his will and called himself a “legless freak.” However, Forrest never gave up on his friend and remained by his side.
As time passed by, Lt. Dan decides to accept his disability, and eventually moves on. He works with Forrest for the Bubba-Gump Shrimp Company, becomes successful, and walks again on prosthetics.
Talking about his role as Lt. Dan, Gary reveals that he was ready to act out the iconic character even before he was offered the role.
“A full 10, 12 years [before filming], I’d been working with Vietnam veterans in Chicago,” Gary told Fox News. “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.”
Gary had another reason to take on the role “because of the Vietnam veterans in my family and the Vietnam veterans I had worked with in the ’80s,” as per CBS News.
As fate would have it, after Forrest Gump, Gary, who has received an Oscar nomination, an Emmy, and a Golden Globe, is working tirelessly to help veterans like Lt. Dan.
“I could have never predicted that I would be connected to a character I played in a movie for 20 years,” Gary said.
During the 90s, Gary worked on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans organizations, which he continues to actively support. In 2003, he undertook several USO handshake tours.
By early 2004, he formed the Lt. Dan Band and has since held a series of Lt. Dan Band benefit concerts around the globe to raise funds for veterans.
To further his support, Gary established the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 with the mission “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,” as stated on its website.
The Foundation raises nearly US$30 million yearly, and 90 percent of the funds go to projects such as building smart homes for disabled veterans and sending families of military heroes to Disney World, as per PEOPLE.
Due to his incredible humanitarian deeds and his inspirational character as Lt. Dan, the stellar actor continues to remain a real-life inspiration to many disabled veterans.
“Because he was an injured soldier when I started visiting hospitals I saw the faces light up on the real-life Lieutenant Dans laying in the hospital beds,” Gary said. “And when I’d walk in they’d start talking about Lt. Dan and the character…It just became clear..that role had a larger meaning to a portion of our population than just a character in a movie.”
“They would look at me and they would recognize me as Lt. Dan,” he explained. “They wouldn’t know what my real name as [sic], but they’d call me Lt. Dan.”
The wounded service personnel that Gary has met over the course of time all wanted to move on with their lives, just like what Lt. Dan did at the end of the movie.
“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,” Gary said.
Visiting my pal Christian Brown in Tennessee today. Visit: https://www.garysinisefoundation.org/projects/rise/christian-brown
While speaking about what continues to motivate him, Gary said: “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.”
With a heart of gratitude towards the wounded veterans for their immense sacrifice, Gary’s commitment to honor and support our heroes continues. He will always be there for them, thanking them by doing his utmost to make a difference in their lives.