For nearly 40 years, actor Gary Sinise has advocated for veterans and service members. People in the military community perhaps know him best for his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in the film “Forrest Gump” and for his creation of the Lt. Dan Band, which formed in 2004 and began entertaining troops at home and overseas. But his work for veterans and service members started long before. In the early 1980s he created Vets Night, a program offering free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and later he began working on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans organization, a relationship that continues today.
For these and other achievements, Sinise is the 2017 recipient of the Angel of Honor Award, the highest award the Armed Services YMCA can bestow. The award is presented to “an individual or organization demonstrating distinguished and extraordinary advancement of the Armed Services YMCA mission,” according to ASYMCA. The inaugural Angel of Honor Award was given in 2016 to country musician Lee Greenwood.
According to ASYMCA, Angel of Honor awardees are chosen because they have made contributions “that extend and propel the mission of the Armed Services YMCA.” Sinise was chosen for his great advances in strengthening service members and their families.
“Gary Sinise’s work in the military community resonates with our mission,” said William French Armed Services YMCA President and CEO. “We look forward to expanding on that work as we join together to honor these courageous military medics.”
In 2011, Sinise formed the Gary Sinise Foundation 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,” according to the foundation (www.garysinisefoundation.org).
The foundation is building custom Smart Homes for severely wounded veterans, serving hearty meals to deploying troops and hosting spirit-boosting festivals for patients, families and medical staff at military hospitals. Sinise and his band perform about 30 shows a year for military bases, charities and fundraisers supporting wounded warriors, Gold Star families, veterans and troops around the world. The foundation supports not only the military but all those who serve, including first responders. It has nine outreach programs, from R.I.S.E., or Restoring Independence Supporting Empowerment, which builds smart homes, to the most recent addition, Soaring Valor, which sends WWII veterans to the museum built in their honor.
“While we can never do enough to show our gratitude to our nation’s defenders, we can always do a little more,” Sinise said.
Sinise has gained the well-deserved recognition of numerous organizations over the years for his work in the military community. He received the second-highest civilian honor, the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008. The Department of Defense presented him with the Spirit of Hope Award in 2012 and the Medal of Honor Society awarded him the Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment. And in October 2015, Sinise received the Sylvanus Thayer Award from the West Point Association of Graduates. This award is given to a citizen whose outstanding character, accomplishments, and stature in the civilian community share comparative qualities for which West Point strives. As the work of the Gary Sinise Foundation continues to expand and deepen, his compassionate reputation does as well.
“The Armed Services YMCA is honored that Gary Sinise has accepted the Angel of Honor Award. His dedication and support of active-duty service members and veterans is unmatched. We look forward to celebrating his benevolent work in the military community at the Angels of the Battlefield Awards Gala in November,” said ASYMCA organizers.
The Angel of Honor Award is a bronze statue sculpted by nationally acclaimed bronze sculptor Gareth Curtiss.