- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

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 in his nature, he is becoming something akin to this generation´s Bob Hope.

One step in conferring this worthy title on the award-winning actor, director and producer occurred last week when President Bush bestowed on him the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian honor awarded to citizens for exemplary deeds performed in service of the nation. Previous recipients include Henry “Hank” Aaron, Muhammad Ali, Colin L. Powell and Bob Dole.

While the White House ceremony flew under the radar of most of the media, most notably the entertainment press, word has trickled out to many of his countless admirers in and out of the military. And on the occasion of him receiving the award, they want America to take in their words of praise for, as Sharon Tyk in the USO of Illinois put it, this “gallant American patriot.”


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.”

In 2004, “Seabiscuit” author Laura Hillenbrand with Mr. Sinise founded Operation Iraqi Children, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping the U.S. military distribute school supplies in the war-stricken country.

“For a lot of celebrities, charitable work equals photo opportunity and nothing more,” Miss Hillenbrand wrote in an e-mail. “For Gary, giving of himself, and giving to his country, is what makes life meaningful and joyful. It is perhaps the most essential part of his character, and it is his passion.”

Mr. Sinise not only “supports the troops,” but he champions their mission as well.

“I have seen Iraqi kids climbing on our soldiers and hugging them and kissing them,” Mr. Sinise said. “I have seen their smiling faces and their attempts to say ‘I love you’ in broken English. The folks I saw had hope in their eyes and gratitude in their hearts for what was done for them.”

Mr. Sinise, who currently stars in “CSI: New York,” is best known for his Oscar-nominated turn as Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump,” which won the best picture Academy Award in 1994.

Lt. Dan - the iconic character who lost his limbs in the Vietnam War - created a connection between Mr. Sinise and veterans that reached far beyond the big screen.

“His superb performance brought awareness of the lifelong sacrifice of disabled veterans into the public consciousness in a remarkably positive way,” said retired Maj. Gary Weaver of the U.S. Marine Corps and national director of communications for Disabled American Veterans.

In 2004, Mr. Sinise, wanting to do more, formed the Lt. Dan Band, a jam band created almost exclusively to entertain the troops in and out of war zones.

“It´s very important that you know we are grateful,” the bass guitar playing Mr. Sinise recently said while performing at the Pentagon. “The sacrifice you and your families make - you are not forgotten.”

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