Celebrating Heroes

Lieutenant Dan, the Man!

“While we can never do enough for our defenders and their loved ones, we can always do a little more.” Those glorious and resonant words are written upon the Gary Sinise Foundation website.

“Lieutenant Dan,” the man whose character role lost his legs in the movie “Forrest Gump” clearly walks around with a heart of gold, and he unfailingly extends it to the Gold Star Families whose loved ones fought and died in the military role, in the name of America. Recently, the Gary Sinise Foundation honored military families whose soldier never made it home. Rolling out the heroes’ red carpet by treating over 1000 Gold Star families to a Christmas weekend and the twinkling pizzazz at Disney World, 63-year-old Gary Sinise once again exuded authenticity and heart-poured grace and humility among spouses and children harboring a hollow, each one a component part of the casualties of war.

In an interview with Hollywood reporter Leena Tailor, Sinise expounded upon his widely-acclaimed character in “Forrest Gump” and how it not only impacted his life but many others: “The fact that Lieutenant Dan was a wounded Vietnam veteran—he’s kind of played a bigger role in my life because of the nature of what that character was,” Sinise noted while reflecting on filming Forrest Gump, in which he played Lieutenant Dan Taylor, the commanding officer of Hank’s titular character. “He was a wounded, injured solider, and I remember going into the first hospital to visit an injured soldier after Sept. 11, and all he wanted to talk about was Lieutenant Dan and what happened to Lieutenant Dan. So, that character has obviously been very special to me.”

In recent interviews with media covering the Gold Star families and supports provided by the Gary Sinise Foundation, Mr. Sinise declared, “I’ll do anything for these kids, anything for the Gold Star Families so that they know that we never forget.” He’s a professional at not forgetting grief-stricken folks who have endured much loss, many way too soon for many way-too-young minds somehow trying to comprehend the gravity of it all.

Snowball Express

A few short years ago, the Gary Sinise Foundation adopted another giving-back program to its pre-existing variety of philanthropic ventures, and this one lead directly to Disney aura. It all started with a letter written by a deployed military servicemember to his wife. That particular letter possessed the prose of a warrior who processed the reality that he may not return home to his family. So he addressed that temporal reality in words and shaped a covenant directing his spouse, should he not come home, to ensure she and their children go to Disney World.

Whether that soldier had a depth of prescience or recognized the odds or whatever, that promise to which he held his wife became part of a military family’s destiny. It also became exponential, as thousands of other military marriages and their progeny experience the same dire straits.

That poignant gesture from a loving dad whose military mortality was a possibility registered with Mr. Sinise, so much so that his Foundation added it to their lineup of treats. Commenced in 2006, the Snowball Express is a four-day all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida, made possible by the Gary Sinise Foundation…and thousands of Gold Star families have been recipients of a small token for so much void. It is the gesture which telegraphs how Americans bond in the face of misery, and proffered by someone who counts his blessings and invests them in others’ sustenance.

Watch any video footage and read any published matter involving Gary Sinise and you will undoubtedly hear/see his constant use of the word “blessing.” It is easy to see why many count him as one of their biggest blessings. And that is what life is all about, isn’t it?

Mr. Sinise’s heart has always been ripe for humanitarian deeds. Perhaps not so ironically —and you may be able to relate in similar fashion— this man was exceptionally ripened as he absorbed the atrocities of 9/11/01. Turning negative into positive was the feat. It was then that he made a silent vow and kept it with actionable solutions to abate as much of the hurt and heartache he could, especially for those who were a part of the defense.

The magical lights and brightly bursting fireworks displays welcomed roughly 1000 youngsters and parents upon Disney World’s festooned walkways. As a Disney magician said for the guests of Gary Sinise, “These kids are the VIPs of VIPs.”

Gary Sinise Sends Fallen Soldiers' Kids to Disney World

Veterans' families won't be forgotten. 💙 The Gary Sinise Foundation gave fallen soldiers' kids a heartfelt holiday gift.

Posted by Entertainment Tonight on Friday, December 14, 2018

Mr. Sinise explained the wondrous effects of the Snowball Express, this year being the first time in Orlando’s Disney World: “When we bring all these kids together, they get to bond with each other. It’s very, very healing and they see that they’re not alone going through this grief by themselves and other kids are going through the same thing. We just give them a lot of love and a lot of joy and make sure that they know that they’re appreciated and that we don’t forget what they’re going through,” he shared with Entertainment Tonight.

“We still have people deployed in harm’s way—they’re still getting hurt. We’re still losing service members and they have children,” Sinise told ET‘s Leena Tailor. “Those children are going through a lot of difficult things when they lose a parent in military service. We’re all the beneficiaries of what their parents do to protect our freedom and protect our country. So, I believe there’s a way that we can show our support and help them through these difficult times and that’s what we do at the Gary Sinise Foundation each and every day.”

Here at OpsLens we unceasingly honor those who served our beloved America. We do it by honoring our writers, themselves heroes who, in turn, pay it forward by honoring others in their writing herein. Among our publishing categories is one called “Celebrating Heroes.” Similarly, this article seems to have an exponential value: celebrating a hero, Gary Sinise, who dedicates his life blessings by celebrating the selfless. As Mr. Sinise put it: “It takes a very, very special person to want to defend our nation, or to want to protect our cities and its citizens. A very special person that is willing to run into a burning building to try to save somebody that you don’t know.” For those to whom he refers, Sinise added raw recognition and heartfelt messaging: “Sometimes it’s really tough and we’d like to remind you sometimes when you feel like hope is gone, look inside [as he patted his chest], be strong, know that we love you and appreciate you and we’ll never forget you.”

Sinise does similar events for/with America’s first responders, honoring police, fire and EMS officials who also confront danger and know any day may be their final. In the form of celebratory concerts, grants, and equipment purchases, the Gary Sinise organization provides for those who provide for citizens and, like him, expect zero in return. On to the next call is the shared practice, helping others is the mutual goal.

Even though it was only scripted for the big screen, thank goodness Forrest saved Lt. Dan’s life. He was given hope in that epic flick…and he keeps it not to himself.

Hope, indeed, is what he offers without hesitation and without expectation of returns…other than happy folks. Lt. Dan, the man! That is a hero to celebrate as we honor those who ensured the chance to do so. It seems apropos to wind down with some words and wisdom, complemented by music and song by The Lt. Dan Band:

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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