With the exceptions of Bob Hope and Martha Raye, there may be no other American entertainer who has served our armed forces more. That person is Gary Sinise, actor, director, producer writer, musician, a bit of a down home, foot-shuffling, aw-shucks guy from the Midwest who has probably spent as much time in war zones as many members of our over-worked military, and certainly more than any Member of Congress. Sinise is one of those rare humans who is easy to sum up in quick terms: a really good guy. Or if you wish to add accolades as I'm sure many in the military would: a really damned good guy, among many other unpublishable terms of praise.
The role Sinise played in Forrest Gump, that of Lieutenant Dan Taylor, an embittered, double-amputee veteran of Vietnam, made him, whether he wanted it to or not, forever a part of the military and veteran community. He wasn't necessarily a hero, but simply someone with whom they could identify and find some hope and cause in their lives, through his spot-on depiction of the despair and resurrection of a horribly wounded veteran in a horribly wounded cause.
To his everlasting credit, Gary Sinise, quietly accepted the burden of being the iconic, Lt. Dan, to one of the most emotionally and politically disquieted factions in America. Though he'd never worn the uniform, nor much less been in combat, he had thoroughly resonated as Lt. Dan with those who had, as well as the broader audience who had seen his screen depiction. In what I consider a bit of inspired creative and moral genius, in 2004, Sinise, along with Kimo Williams, created the Lt. Dan Band, and began playing to military audiences around the world.
Since that time, Sinise has taken the Lt. Dan Band into combat zones repeatedly to entertain our combat-deployed troops. Few civilians ever attain the level of acceptance among the troops that Sinise has: Bob Hope, Martha Ray and most assuredly, John Wayne; but few others are in that pantheon, and certainly no other contemporaries. And yes, part of it is attributable to the fictional role of Lt. Dan, but most of it is due to Sinise's pure dogged determination to serve, uniform or no, as the real deal, a singing junior officer in arms, Lieutenant Dan, in the flesh, right there in the combat zone with them. As a Vietnam vet, that resonates mightily with me, as I'm sure it does with all my brothers and sisters of our war.
As a country, we struggle to preserve and maintain our social structures that made us the great nation that we are. Regardless of your political views as to the wars we wage, Gary Sinise should be considered an American warrior of the first order in our national conflicts.