Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gary Sinise: great actor, better person

By Rick Morris

Gary Sinise has long been one of my favorite actors. While he's most famous for his work on "CSI: NY" and as "Lt. Dan" in "Forest Gump," I enjoyed him most in "Snake Eyes" with Nick Cage. Great, great movie, check it out, you will be entertained.

Anyway, I knew that he was very involved with the USO and very active on behalf of our soldiers and sailors, but not until his recent acceptance of the Presidential Citizen Medal did I have any appreciation for the degree to which this man has worked purely for the benefit of others. I will quote at some length from the excellent article by Andrew Breitbart which I encourage you to read in its entirety:

"Since war became a geographically distant but very real way of life after Sept. 11, 2001, no Hollywood star has stepped up to support active duty U.S. military personnel and wounded veterans like Gary Sinise. There is no close second. And quietly, as is his nature, he is becoming something akin to this generation´s Bob Hope ...

Michael Yon, a Special Forces vet and the pre-eminent war journalist of our time, communicated his admiration in a dispatch from Bahrain: 'Gary is a true friend of the American soldier. He does not hesitate to travel into war zones to express his admiration and personal support for those who defend us. He visits wounded soldiers, some of whom I personally know. All love him.

Soldiers from privates to generals admire Gary for his dedication to a cause greater than any of us. Gary's dedication went much further. He personally supported sending millions of dollars worth of school and clothing supplies to Iraqi children. I saw this effort with my own eyes. Gary Sinise is a Great American.'

[USO employee Sharon] Tyk recalled [a] memorable experience with Mr. Sinise.

'We picked up Gary at 5 a.m.,' she wrote. 'I felt somewhat crabby because I had to get up very, very early to get him to the CBS studios. There he was in front of the residence waiting for us with a smile on his face eagerly waiting to help. I thought to myself, Sharon you need to learn a lesson from this man. Look at him, he´s honored and thrilled to help and he´s not even getting paid to do this and you are! His love for the mission that day completely changed my thought process. He is the perfect example of 'you teach what you live.' '

Spc. Jason M. Hale, who encountered Mr. Sinise at Camp Ramadi, e-mailed: 'He was the only celebrity that came to take pictures with us where we worked on base, and you had the feeling that if he could, he would have grabbed a weapon and gone on patrol with us. That's how much he connected with the troops. He's one of those Hollywood guys who doesn't act like he's from Hollywood, and to those who are living in the desert, putting their lives on the line, that's quite refreshing.'

To get a sense of the scope of what Mr. Sinise means to soldiers like Spc. Hale, filmmaker and Army 82d Airborne veteran Jonathan Flora followed him and his band to Afghanistan and Iraq in 2008. He recounts one time when he witnessed one of Mr. Sinise´s typical interactions with the troops.

'It was hot, Iraq hot when we stopped at a check point before entering an FOB (Forward Operating Base). Gary began speaking with a soldier through the window and soon we were all standing outside so he could have his picture taken with him and a few of his buddies. Soon there were at least fifty guys around him and he greets each one as he always does. This is an unscheduled stop and we are being urged to move on so as to be on time for his next stop, but Gary, still, meets with each one and gives them their time. Finally, we have to move on as he says good-bye to the last soldier.

As we are about to get into the vehicle we hear the guys yelling and in the distance is one more soldier. He is dressed in full battle-rattle humping as fast as he can in this unbearable heat to get to Gary before he leaves. He had just been relieved from his point and heard that Gary Sinise had stopped by the check point, and he was determined not to miss him. Gary without hesitation stopped and waited and he greeted this young man as if he was the first man in line, full of enthusiasm and appreciation.

'When we did finally get into the vehicle I mentioned to Gary how I observe how he makes each and every man or woman feel special and appreciated, he paused in thought before answering, as he often does, and then says with a heavy heart, 'It's because we don't know what the next hour holds for them. As tired as I might get sometimes, and I do, it is nothing compared to what they go through day-after-day with the price they are so readily willing to pay.' '

Deb Rickert of Operation Support our Troops said it best about Mr. Sinise, the recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal.

'In an age when the public often lavishes epitaphs of greatness on celebrities merely because they are famous, the military community bestows the simple title of friend on Gary Sinise truly because that is what he is to us.' "

What a great story. I don't like to quote from a column as liberally as I just did, but I think Mr. Breitbart probably would not mind because he would agree that as many people as possible should know this story (and I did link directly to it and I encourage readers yet again to read the whole account). Fox News will be airing a special that will feature Gary Sinise and the troop visits on January 10 in prime time. Set your VCRs/TIVOs/whatever if you want to have an inspirational piece of video that you can watch whenever you want to see the best of America. Congratulations to Gary Sinise on his recent award, the second-highest one awarded to civilians in this country.

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