25 years after ‘Forrest Gump’, Gary Sinise talks about his love for veterans, San Diego

CORONADO, Calif. -- It's been almost 40 years since Gary Sinise, an accomplished actor, director and musician, began advocating for America’s service members and first responders.

It began in the early '80s with Sinise’s support of Vietnam Veterans groups. In the '90s, the actor began working on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans organization. Following the 9-11 attacks in 2001, Sinise’s commitment to our country’s veterans, active duty service members and first responders has become a campaign of support, service and gratitude to all those who serve our country and protect our freedom.

His iconic role as Lt. Dan Taylor in the landmark film "Forrest Gump" formed a strong connection with servicemen and women throughout the military community. After several USO tours in 2003, Sinise formed the Lt. Dan Band and began entertaining troops serving at home and abroad. The band now performs close to 30 shows a year for military bases, charities and fundraisers supporting wounded heroes, Gold Star families, veterans and troops around the world.

Sinise was in San Diego for his annual Father’s Day concert in Coronado and he took some time out of his day to speak with FOX 5’s Maria Arcega-Dunn.

Maria: First of all, Happy Father’s Day.

Gary: Thank you.

Maria: As I said to you before, it’s a wonderful day for you. It’s nice that you’re here in Coronado -- you can’t really go wrong.

Gary: No, we love it here. We’ve been coming down here for years and now we’ve been doing the concert here -- this is our, I think, our 5th year in a row for Father’s Day, Flag Day sort of concert and love doing it.

Maria: San Diego loves you. It’s a military town. You’ve supported the military forever. And last year I know the city gave you an award. Talk to us a little bit about that and just your support for the troops.

Gary: Well, anything that can draw attention and put the spotlight on the men and women who serve our country, the people I’m trying to give back to through the Gary Sinise Foundation and anything that can help me raise awareness for that, I’m happy to do it. Sometimes they’ll present me with things for doing this kind of thing and it raises awareness. I show up to an event or something like that and it helps to put the spotlight where I want it to be, which is on the people that are serving our country and certainly allowing folks across the country to become aware of some of the great organizations that are out there that are trying to support them. I’ve supported many of those over the years and eventually started my own, the Gary Sinise Foundation.

Maria: Last year we know that you were dealing with your daughter’s upcoming wedding. It was coming up right after July 4th. That was just last years plans, any plans for this July 4th. How did the wedding go?

Gary: That’s right. Last year we were getting ready. My daughter got married July 7th of last year, so we were here a couple weeks before that. That’s going great, my family is here with me today, which is nice. I have everybody here for Father’s Day. All three of my kids are here, two of my grandchildren. My wife is here and my two sons-in-law are here so it’s really nice to be able to spend some time with them. Everything has been busy and we’re trying to just make a difference where we can.

Maria: Last year you were busy planning for a wedding. This year it’s a little bit more relaxed. Any plans for July 4th this year?

Gary: We’re just sitting tight at home this year. Quite often I’ve been out playing a concert for the troops someplace on July 4th. We’ve been overseas many times on July 4th, we’ve been, you know, around the country doing things July 4th. This year, sitting tight at home, trying to clear the summer a bit. I do have a little bit of traveling, some concerts for the troops and some busy times here and there but primarily I’ve just been trying to clear the summer out a little bit and stay home a little bit more.

Maria: You know, it’s funny -- it’s been 25 years, I had a conversation with a friend today we were talking about "Forrest Gump." Twenty-five years since it’s been released. It’s amazing, isn’t it? Time just flies. Did you ever expect the impact that it was going to have? That movie, generations of children, everybody still watching it today?

Gary: You know, when we were making "Forrest Gump" 25, 26 years ago. We were shooting it in ’93 and it came out in ’94. We knew we were having a good time making it and that everybody was doing a good job and everything, but nobody really could predict that it could would become a movie that would last and last. Now, here we are, 25 years later. Paramount hosted a big screening out on the mall right around Memorial Day this year. They’re actually putting the movie into movie theaters on June 23rd and June 25th as a special 25th anniversary of Forrest Gump. Fathom event in cooperation, in partnership with Paramount Pictures so the movie will be out there again for people that want to see it, who’ve never seen it and for folks who have watched it many times you can see it in the theaters again on those days.

Maria: You’ve had some pretty amazing roles. That one (Lt. Dan Taylor) resonates with so many people. How many people, every time they see you, yell "Lt. Dan"?

Gary: Well, I named my band after the character for a reason. I remember when I first started doing USO tours and going out and visiting our troops, I was doing that by myself. I’d just go out and shake hands and take pictures. At that time -- this was prior to CSI New York, the international platform that a series in 200 markets can give you. Prior to that, a lot of people didn’t know my name but they knew my face from "Forrest Gump." People were calling me Lt. Dan all the time when I was out visiting the troops. So, when I started taking the band, I just named the band after the character because people recognize me from that. There’s another aspect of that. Not only the celebrity that it brought and the change in my movie career and everything like that, but it also introduced me to a whole world of our wounded veterans. Lt. Dan, of course, is a double amputee Vietnam veteran and I remembered getting a call from the Disabled Veterans organizations right after the movie opened and they invited me to their National Convention. I write about this in my book -- it's called "Grateful American" -- and how important it was to go to the Disabled Veterans convention and be welcomed by 2000 wounded veterans and what that did, how it impacted me so it changed my life not only with my career and the movies and television and everything but it impacted me greatly with regards to our wounded veterans and I’ve been supporting them ever since.

Maria: You know, a lot of our veterans come back and they are wounded physically or emotionally. My personal experience was with my ex who came back and did not recover following so many deployments. That’s something that -- in a town like Coronado or San Diego, we have a number of veterans, we have our Navy SEALs, we have North Island -- we’re exposed to it. There are some places in the country where they hear about the troops and they appreciate the sacrifice but they don’t realize the impact that war has on a lot of these men and women. So, I think you’re bringing that out, bringing that kind of awareness, with what you do.

Gary: Well, I realize that there’s a kind of a disconnect between the average citizen and our military. If you don’t have a personal relationship with somebody who served in the military, you might not have any knowledge of what our military actually does and who the people are who are serving in our military. What I try to do -- because I get to go to military bases all over the world and I’ve met thousands and thousands of active duty and veterans, first responders who are serving our country -- I get to go there, I get to experience what they do, I get to meet them and see how courageous and brave and selfless they can be and then I get to go talk about it to people like you on television or on radio or I get to write a book about it or I get to talk to print media or whatever and just try to raise awareness. I think the more we can raise awareness for who our military is, the better appreciation our average citizen will have for our military. We are only free because we have people willing to sacrifice for that freedom. There’s no question about it. When you go around the world and you visit places like the DMZ between North and South Korea and you’re staring at North Korea over there, it’s nothing but slavery over there. You really have an appreciation for the men and women who serve to protect freedom. And that’s what we have. We’re lucky to have people who are willing to do it and I want them to know I appreciate it.

Maria: Hence everything that you do for the troops, and I know so many of them appreciate you. It’s been the talk of the city and talk of the island as well -- everybody knows you’re in town. What would you want to say to San Diego and the people who have served who live here?

Gary: San Diego is a tremendous town, first of all. It’s a tremendous military town. I’ve been coming here for years. I’ve lived in California for over 30 years. I’ve been bringing my family down to San Diego for summer vacations, places around here -- visiting SeaWorld, going to Paradise Point, going to the Hotel Del and going to these different spots, Petco Park. I mean, I just love San Diego. I love the military here. When you’re sitting here at the Del you can be on your balcony and an F-18 super hornet will fly by, or a helicopter will be out there dropping somebody in the water, and you’re watching Navy SEALs swim by and train. You really have a great affection and appreciation for the people that are constantly training to protect us and defend us. I want them to know that I appreciate them. I love coming here. I love doing this Father’s Day concert. We have tons of veterans that come out for this and it’s great to be back once again.

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