“For me personally, the events of September 11, 2001 are seared into my memory. And afterwards, there was our nation’s collective grief, a numbness and a fear we all shared, and I quite simply, at that terrible time, felt that my heart was breaking,” Sinise told Fox News Digital on Tuesday. “It was through service work that I found healing for my broken heart. And I have continued that work ever since.”
Sinise shared what he’s thankful for this holiday season with Fox News Digital, ahead of Thanksgiving and less than one week after receiving the “Service to Veterans” honor at the fourth annual Fox Nation Patriot Awards.
“Supporting our nation’s heroes is my lifelong mission and I will continue to serve it faithfully,” Sinise said. “It’s an honor to be recognized and the best part is that I get to, in turn, shine a light and recognize the true heroes who serve our country.”
In 2011, after spending the previous decade volunteering with other organizations, Sinise decided to take humanitarian efforts into his own hands and launched his nonprofit, the Gary Sinise Foundation. Through the Foundation, Sinise said he’s been “blessed” with opportunities to expand service efforts, providing the military, veteran and first responder communities with additional fundraising and outreach.
“The mission of the Gary Sinise Foundation is broad, and this is a reflection of the needs I’ve seen over the many years supporting so many amazing organizations,” Sinise said. “And the Foundation’s mission is designed to also give us the freedom and flexibility to adapt to the ever-changing needs of our veterans, first responders, and the families who sacrifice alongside them.”
Many Americans may recognize Sinise for one of his most iconic movie roles, the rough and tough – yet beloved – Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. Having grown up with many veterans in his own family before taking on the role, it was Lt. Dan’s story and transformation that drew Sinise to the character.
“Unlike many of the movies released depicting the Vietnam War veteran in the 70s and 80s, Lt. Dan had a happy ending. Before Forrest Gump, it was unusual for a Vietnam vet to have a hopeful conclusion,” Sinise noted. “But at the end of Lt. Dan’s story, after going through so much hardship, you know he is going to be alright. He has persevered through his challenges, he is successful at business, he’s wealthy, he’s married, he’s happy, and standing up on his own ‘magic legs.’”
Sinise further described the “invaluable” bond and enduring connection Lt. Dan has created with America’s military and veterans communities, as well as civilians.
“The response to Lt. Dan was overwhelming and made a major and lasting impact on my life,” Sinise said. “Whenever I went overseas or visited our wounded, everyone would call me Lt. Dan.”
“The character inspired so much joy and hope, and still does. Lt. Dan’s ending is what we hope for all our nation’s heroes: happy and moving beyond the war years towards a brighter future.”
And Sinise is helping define that brighter future. From building smart homes and making mobility modifications for veterans, to hosting an annual trip to Walt Disney World for Gold Star families, Sinise expressed that each of the Foundation’s programs holds a “very special” meaning.
The actor and patriot also showed admiration for media or movies that shine a positive light on true veteran stories, such as the 2016 film “Hacksaw Ridge,” which tells the tale of Medal of Honor recipient Desmond Doss, an Army medic who saved the lives of nearly 75 wounded.
“Regardless of whether you are left or right, Republican or Democrat, conservative, liberal, whatever, our defenders defend us all,” Sinise said, “and having been in the military community for so long, I have met extraordinary people serving our country.”
“We all need heroes, people to look up to and aspire to,” Sinise continued. “I think that we, as a grateful nation, can always do a little more to support them in their time of need.”
“We all have veterans in our local community, so many who struggle in silence. Reach out to lend a helping hand. And if you feel so inspired, support organizations who uplift them. At the Gary Sinise Foundation, we do just that 365 days a year.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation “is constantly firing on all cylinders,” according to its founder, who added that their team is always finding more ways to serve and honor our nation’s heroes.
“Everything that we do is made possible through the generous support of hundreds of thousands of generous and grateful Americans who trust us to be the conduit of their love and gratitude to those who serve,” Sinise said.