From The VG Bookshelf: Gary Sinise’s Grateful American
From The VG Bookshelf: Gary Sinise’s Grateful American
Gary Sinise starts his book, “Grateful American A Journey From Self To Service,” with this quote from Calvin Coolidge.
“The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”
It was his role at Lieutenant Dan that started him on a journey to understanding how important our defenders are to our Republic. Yet his journey was also shaped by his family, the service of family members, and world events such as JFK’s assassination when he was five years old. Gary tells us in Chapter One that he’s just barely a Navy brat considering his father was honorably discharged from the Navy just eight days before Gary was born. He speaks highly of his grandfather and great uncle who served in World War II and the Korean War.
Turns out Gary’s father was a highly regarded film editor. He eventually opened a business in California and edited many many TV shows, including “Miami Vice” and “Hart to Hart.” So it was logical for Gary to be intrigued by the business. Yet, it wasn’t his dad that got him hooked on acting. His true interest started as a sophomore because a theatre teacher named Mrs. Patterson issued a dare (Apple iBook p. 91).
““I’m directing West Side Story for the spring play. You guys all look like you could play gang members. Come and audition for the play.””
And that folks, is what started the ball rolling for an interest in acting that led to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Did you know that Gary was only 18 years old when he started the Steppenwolf with Lauri Metcalf, Glenne Headly, John Malkovich, a young lady named Moira, and others? 18. In talking about those years, Gary makes an excellent point. One of the very key reasons that Steppenwolf was able to be so successful was not only because of their acting but because of the freedoms we all have here in the U.S. (p. 163)
As Steppenwolf was growing and changing, so too was Gary. He had many a conversation with his three brothers-in-law. All of whom served in Vietnam. The groundwork was laid as to how our veterans were and weren’t treated by the public at large. (p. 119-222). And then he stumbled across a play called Tracers. A play written and performed by Vietnam veterans about what they experienced before, during, and after Vietnam. Gary wanted a larger audience to see and learn from Tracers. Finally the writer agreed. Gary’s brother-in-law Mac Harris offered valuable advice from his years in Vietnam, but sadly never saw the result as he passed away the October before the play debuted. For Mac, his other brothers-in-law, for veterans and for those killed in the Beirut bombing – Gary was determined to honor them and bring them out of the shadows. He did, and it ultimately ended up being one of the very first solid instances where he was able to give BACK to all who served.
Chapters 6 and 7 are fun reads about how Steppenwolf really takes off, the birth of his and Moira’s three children, and then producing, directing AND acting in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men with John Malkovich. Keep in mind this was only his third movie as an actor, his second as director, and his first as a producer!
And then we get to Forrest Gump in Chapter 8. In addition to all those that Gary knew, he took inspiration for the role from Lewis Puller Jr, Chesty Puller’s son. Lewis’s story, “Fortunate Son,” was a key motivation for his role as Lt. Dan. The entire chapter is a great read about the making of the movie and all involved. Interestingly, the studio put up billboards simply stating GUMP as part of the media push, which was happening at the same time as some dude named OJ was doing the white Bronco thing!
With Lt. Dan, Gary’s acting career took off. Yet, all was not roses and champagne. His account of Moira’s battle with alcoholism in Chapter 9 is such a tough read. I can’t imagine how difficult it was for both of them to relive those days and yet decide to be so honest with the world of their struggles.
Chapter Ten is aptly titled Turning Point. And it was. 9/11 was the turning point for our country on so very many levels. For Gary it also served as a catalyst to get him to thinking of how to do MORE. How to serve.
““I couldn’t tell you exactly why I did this—perhaps in solidarity, defiance, tribute—but I rolled down my window, stuck out my arm and made a fist, and held it high. Tears welled up in my eyes as I still listened to the news. For some time as I drove along, I held my arm outstretched, as high as it would reach.” (p. 446)
In the aftermath of 9/11 as the troops moving into Afghanistan and then the move to go into Iraq kept him thinking and wondering. He even wrestled with the decision to go into Iraq, and then finally decided that yes Saddam is evil and needs to go. (p. 469)
It was a combination of that and soldiers going to war that led Gary to decide he needs to be involved. After several phone calls, someone from the USO called him back. Once they realized that Gary was THAT Lt. Dan Gary Sinise that is! His first USO trip was in 2003, and from then on the ball started rolling.
One thing Gary makes clear throughout the rest of his book is this. He is doing this NOT for him, but for our troops. He is still amazed to this day that our troops applaud HIM when he absolutely believes that he (Gary) and all of us for that matter should be always grateful to our men and women in the military.
Gary writes eloquently throughout the remainder of his book how his heart continually breaks to hear of someone wounded or killed. He didn’t and still doesn’t want our troops and their families to experience what our Vietnam veterans did.
To that end, what started with a single USO tour went further and perhaps faster than even he thought it would with the revamp and start of the Lt. Dan band. (Chapter 12).
There is more. So so much more to the rest of Gary’s book. The sheer scope of service and what he has done for our troops and their families is much more than even I’d imagined. I urge you to read it all.
Gary Sinise loves our country with his entire heart. Everything he does is for others and for country, not for himself. The impact he’s made on lives across this country is immeasurable.
A few weeks ago a video debuted on behalf of Gary Sinise. How do you say thanks to someone so humble who has done so much? This is how.
Is it dusty in here?
— People (@people) February 13, 2019
Yes, its really REALLY dusty in here.
You know why Gary Sinise is who he is? This is his mission. This is his creed.
““My mission is one of respect, of honor, of gratitude.
It’s a mission of serving other people.
Of helping us never forget.””
In the prologue to his book Gary writes the following.
““There’s a message I want to deliver in this book: I love my country, and I’m grateful to be an American. I know where my freedom comes from, and I do not take for granted the sacrifices of those who provide it. Because of that, I want to do all I can to ensure America’s defenders and their families are never forgotten.””
That message is delivered and then some in this book.
Thank you Gary Sinise for reminding this reader that we Americans have so much to be grateful for.
Feature Photo Credit: Gary Sinise cover, Thomas Nelson publishing, VG Darleen Click background artwork