by Greg Meakin
photo credit Blake Little
War heroes come in many shapes and sizes. In America’s young history, there is an ages-old tradition of honoring those who served our country, fought for our country, were wounded for our country – or sadly, gave their lives for our country.
Most U.S. citizens have not had to experience war first-hand. Whether we acknowledge it or not, most of us simply go about our daily lives during wartime. Our participation is limited to watching the evening news updates, listening to politicians decry its nobility, or newscasters decrying its folly. Otherwise, it’s business as usual for most of us.
During Viet Nam, for the first time ever, the Usher-of-Technology guided us to our seats – brand new seats of a brand new era. Front-row center, nice and comfy in our living rooms, we were able to actually witness the horror of war. Albeit through a small, sometimes flickering television screen.
The daily carnage we watched in nightly news reports in the 1960s and 70s – and the gruesome photos and film footage in full color display of a deadly truth – shed a new light on war for most of us.
War became real.
Some Americans fought with guns. Some, like Captain Ronald Reagan, fought with movie cameras. Brand icon Rosie the Riveter fought with a wrench.
Gary Sinise fights with a guitar.
A guitar, a big heart, and a packed schedule of devotion to our men and women in uniform.
Sinise, like most of us civilians, did not serve in the military. Even today, according to Gary himself, only one-in-fifty Americans serve. Although my own family has a rich and long history of military service – in the American, Canadian, and British armies, navies and air forces dating back to the 1700s – I have not worn the uniform. The closest I got was Sea Scouts when I was 14. We wore blue uniforms with sailor hats. We were cool.
NOTE: – In 1974, when I was 15, my Canadian mother in Montreal marched me and my brother down to the Canadian Embassy. Bob and I were born in the U.S. My mom wanted to guard against us ever being drafted, so she insisted on Canadian Citizenship for us – on the spot. We were entitled to immediate citizenship, being Landed Immigrants from the late 1950s. In my 20s, I was drawn to return to the states, to live the American Dream – and was much more interested in business, sports, and women (in that order) than enlisting in any military for any country! In retirement, I have committed to serve the military with pen in hand (aka keyboard) – and fundraising as a personal mission!
Of all the non-veterans out there, Gary Sinise could be easily mistaken for a military man – especially since playing the memorable role of the legless Lieutenant Dan, of Forrest Gump lore.
With a marauding commitment to give back to our beloved soldiers, Gary Sinise is a globetrotting ambassador of love and care. A lifelong musician, he formed a band in 2003 which is an official program of his Gary Sinise Foundation.
Not coincidentally, the band is called the Lt. Dan Band – and the rock group and its Leader trek tirelessly throughout the year – to stateside military bases and hospitals, and frequent overseas voyages to visit and entertain his beloved troops.
And boy, do the troops love Gary. Just peek at YouTube sometime and you’ll see.
Sinise has close ties with the USO, and makes dedicated USO appearances. In this way, Gary Sinise is a Bob Hope of today’s generation of warriors. (This comparison is only for us old folks who remember Bob Hope!).
The USO office in Seattle is a non-descript area at Sea-Tac Airport, on the second floor. It serves as a rest stop, layover haven, travel assistant, and other services of comfort for our traveling military members.
A few years ago, during a business visit, I glanced at the reception area of the USO office. There sat a lone guitar, casually leaning up against one of the couches. It sits there, with a sort of silent dignity. It quietly awaits a weary soldier who wants a normal, peaceful moment, just strumming a guitar.
The guitar belongs to Gary Sinise. He left it at the Seattle USO years ago – for the troops. The Executive Director of this USO branch is Commander Donald Leingang, a retired Navy helicopter pilot, and nice guy. After visiting with the commander years ago, it occurred to me that if I ever directed a movie, I would have Don play himself. That kind of guy.
When asked last week about the guitar by telephone, he said “It’s just there for anyone to use. Gary wanted it that way.”
Without being asked, Don Leingang confirms it’s still there. “I’m looking right at it.” he declared. Having met and spoken with Leingang a number of times over the years, his tone of voice seemed a little more serious than usual. A little more, well, formal.
I wasn’t sure if he was looking at the guitar, or guarding it.
The guitar sits quietly, to this day. It doesn’t expect to be asked for autographs. Doesn’t even make a sound, really. It just patiently waits to serve a traveling soldier. It knows that even a little strumming comfort can go a long way in a weary warrior’s journey to yet another next destination – home, deployment, rehabilitation for emotional or physical injury, or other ports of call.
That guitar is Gary Sinise. I can just see him sitting there. Maybe reading a military magazine, or maybe Rolling Stone mag. Or just watching the soldiers come and go. The epitome of humility, the man on the couch seeks not fame, or even attention.
Sinise just sits (a bit like Andy Dufresne of Shawshank Redemption) with that little Gary smile of his. It verges on a smirk – but Sinise has always been charming enough to get away with it. He’s one of those guys, like we’ve all known, who’s tough to dislike.
But there he sits, ready and eager to comfort a traveling soldier; to help a wounded soldier; to honor a soldier who has paid the ultimate price for our country – or to recognize our angel First Responders who have saved countless American lives over the years.
I am looking forward to writing more about Sinise. He is far more enriched a character, and accomplished a man, than a mere 1400 words or so can portray. In the near future, I will be writing a full profile, and presenting him with my symbolic Maslow Award.
The more I learn about this actor I’ve only known on a big (and little) screen – the more I feel compelled to recognize his amazing career, his endless awards and accomplishments, and especially his role-model humility and class.
In the meantime, I personally wish to thank not only Gary Sinise, but also Commander Leingang, and all the other wonderful folks who devote so much time and energy to such a priceless cause – and to such a worthy group; our men and women in uniform.
I urge readers to visit Gary’s websites, GarySinise.com, and his wonderful Foundation, GarySiniseFoudation.org.
I encourage everyone to contribute in any way possible – your time, your money, or just a loving heart – to Gary’s foundation, to the USO, and to other organizations who fill key voids in the often fragile world of a soldier.
Thank you, Gary. Thank you for your tireless efforts, your endless commitment to our troops, and your boundless energy delivering the message. The message of love from deep in the hearts of the American People.
Attention all military personnel, and Gary Sinise: You are truly loved and appreciated.
Salutes. From all Americans.
Copyright © 2018 Greg Meakin
February 16, 2018
Exclusive to Secrets from the Inside
Greg Meakin is a retired businessman, author and publisher who grew up in Montreal, and has lived in the Seattle area since 1983. Smartest and funniest guy you’ll ever meet, and is versed in seemingly all subject matters.
He now lives in Castle Rock, WA – a happy Empty Nester, with his wife Deborah, their two dogs, and four cats.
I’ve been best friends with Greg for more than 50 years. He’s an amazing writer– the best I’ve ever known. See his full Bio and Published Works at GregMeakin.com, or check out his new Online eMagazine, SecretsFromTheInside.com.
– Derek Gatehouse, Montreal