On Sunday, actor/musician Gary Sinise again co-hosts the National Memorial Day Concert from the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It will be the 29th annual concert and the 150th anniversary of Memorial Day.
The format is much the same as in past years. Sinise and “Criminal Minds” star Joe Mantegna team with retired Army Gen. Colin Powell to remember those who have sacrificed for our country, our freedom and our way of life. It will attract millions of viewers across our nation and at American military installations throughout the world.
This year, the concert will recognize the contributions of military women, including the story of Silver Star recipient SFC Leigh Ann Hester, the first woman to receive the Silver Star for valor in combat. Hester is a Franklin (Tenn.) police officer.
It will feature segments on the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War. It will highlight the story of Korean War buddies Joe Annello and Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, who helped each other endure unimaginable treatment as POWs.
Sinise, who was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1995 Academy Award-winning movie “Forrest Gump,” has been a longtime military and veteran supporter. He is committed to ensuring that veterans and their families are not forgotten or ignored, as they were after the Vietnam War.
He reminds us of President Calvin Coolidge’s words: “The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten.”
In the 1980s, Sinise joined USO tours much as legendary comedian Bob Hope did from World War II through Vietnam.
Sinise formed the “Lt. Dan Band” in early 2004 and began entertaining troops serving at home and abroad. Sinise often raised the money to pay the band and fund its travel.
The band now performs approximately 30 shows a year at military bases and for charities and fundraisers supporting wounded heroes, Gold Star families, veterans and troops.
Six years ago, he established the Gary Sinise Foundation. Last year it had more than 40,000 contributors and earned a “5-Star” (best) rating by Charitable Navigator.
One of its core programs is RISE (Restoring Independence & Supporting Empowerment) for severely wounded veterans and their families requiring specially equipped homes and vehicles. With the backing of companies such as Home Depot, GE, Owens Corning and many other large and small businesses, 65 families will have high-tech, specially- modified homes by year’s end.
This year, the foundation is focusing on programs for young children who lost parents to come together for fun events to build and maintain bonds.
Sinise’s organization also links high school students with World War II veterans for tours of the D-Day Museum in New Orleans. He believes it is vital for young Americans to understand what our veterans have sacrificed.
That link is weaker today. Today, with no military draft, less than 2 percent of our population is defending the rest of us.
“Freedom and security are precious gifts that we, as Americans, should never take for granted,” Sinise said. “We must do all we can to extend our hand in times of need to those who willingly sacrifice each day to provide that freedom and security.”
Far too many veterans, particularly young men, are committing suicide. In 2014, the Veterans Administration pegged the total at 20 per day. Part of Sinise’s work is connecting vets so they support one another.
Thankfully, Gary Sinise has made year-around commitments to help the vets and their families. Wouldn’t it be great if other entertainers joined Sinise? Lt. Dan needs lots of helping hands.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.