By Jack Mandaville I have to preface my forthcoming rant with a...
Shut Up and Get Down with Lieutenant Dan
By Kelly Crigger
Gary Sinise is probably the most patriotic celebrity ever, with the possible exception being John Wayne himself. Sinise has traveled to combat zones more times than the Lindsey Lohan’s been to jail and supports a long list of veteran organizations. His band, The Lieutenant Dan Band, plays charity shows for troops all over the world and he co-founded The Snowball Express to bring the children of fallen service members together. We recently had the opportunity to sit down with him and find out more about the man who dedicates his life to the red, white, and blue.
Where does the passion to support the military come from?
My family has a lot of military history. My father was in the Navy. My Grandfather was a vet. My uncles were World War II veterans. My wife’s family is full of veterans. In the early eighties I got involved with a lot of Vietnam Vets groups and got really passionate about helping them out. And of course playing Lieutenant Dan got me involved with a lot of disabled vets and that led to an ongoing mission of military support in my life. It’s very rewarding and something I’ve always enjoyed doing.
If you could do it all over again, would you join up?
I don’t know that I have what it takes to live the lifestyle of a grunt. Living in a hole. Not showering for days. Constantly in danger like they are now. I’m not sure that’s me. I’ve been told by military members that I could do it, but I’m really not sure. I certainly admire the folks willing to sacrifice their own comfort for the rest of us and am very grateful that they can do it, but I don’t know that I could. Maybe I could.
Do you get frustrated with your colleagues in the entertainment industry for not doing more to support the troops?
No. It’s their choice to help out or not. I just choose to because I want to. If I get frustrated at anything it’s the perception that troops are crazy. So many people think military service members are mentally unstable, which we know isn’t true. I know so many stable, incredible people that don’t fit that stereotype. PTSD stories are more emotional and provide more drama and conflict so Hollywood latches onto it. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s unfortunate because it just pushes that stereotype more. I know a lot of good people tyring to educate the masses on the cost of freedom and who provides it. It’s our Soldiers and Marines and defenders of this country. Don’t worry about the actors and their attitudes. If someone tries to take away our freedoms, it’s not going to be the actors who defend us.
Did you enjoy playing Lieutenant Dan?
Very much. It was a great story of a misunderstood guy. It’s an understandable story too. He just wanted to serve and be a leader, but it got taken away from him. In the end he comes out on top and is resilient and end sup getting rich (laughs). For a lot of folks it was a Vietnam story that we hadn’t heard before because so many stories about that era focus on the negative side of Soldiers. Lieutenant Dan pulls himself up, finds a friend and realizes he’s a strong guy.
I can tell you that my buddies and I used to mock Lieutenant Dan and say “Shut Up and Get Down” all the time as a joke out in the field.
Ha Ha! Really? Did you yell it at each other? I think it was “Get down” and then “Shut up.”
You’re probably right. So…Hollywood is a notoriously liberal town where marriage is seldom long-term and drug addiction is common. Why are you so stable when so many other celebrities aren’t?
I don’t think Hollywood is as rampant with those types as you think. I mean every profession has their nitwits. BUt what’s more dramatic? The story of the actor who doesn’t make any waves or the actor who breaks things and acts badly? Who gets more attention? It’s the story of two houses. One is on fire and one isn’t. The one on fire gets all the attention. You just don’t hear about the good family-oriented stable actors because it’s not that interesting. There’s craziness in every business. The military has it as well. Abu Ghrab got a lot of attention because it was a story of bad Soldiers doing bad things, but at the same time 150,000 other troops were doing the right thing all across Iraq. I think it goes both ways in the military and in Hollywood. It’s just a perception.
You’re a selfless guy and it seems like the entertainment industry is very selfish where everyone looks out for themselves. Do you have any difficulties adjusting to that lifestyle?
Going from Gary to Mister Sinise was shocking (laughs). At the time I was coming into acting in the 1990’s I was still just Gary. But then I got nominated for an Oscar. That was a life changing moment that I had to adjust to. I instantly went from anonymity to recognizability and that took some adjusting. Fortunately years of working in the theater got me ready for it. I still didn’t like it a whole lot, but at least I didn’t have much trouble adjusting.
I want to give you an opportunity to talk about your charities, but there seems to be so many…Hope for Warriors, American Disabled Vets for Life Memorial, National Veterans Art Museum, The Snowball Express, Gary Sinise Foundation, countless narrations of military programs…am I missing anything? Got a favorite you want to talk about?
Look at the Gary Sinise Foundation.org. On the about page most of my activities are listed. The Foundation is an extension of everything I’ve done up to this point. I needed to create an entity to bring all the things I was doing together, so that’s why we created it. Building for America’s bravest is the big thing now. We partnered with Tunnel to Towers Foundation to build smart homes for veterans. I support a lot of great movements out there so the goal is to build the GS foundation into something reputable and reliable that can be a force for good for veterans.
You spend a lot of your personal time on the road raising funds for these programs and your organization.
Yeah…I’m on the road all the time. I think I’ll do shows on forty weekends this year for charities. Only five of those are corporate, meaning we get paid for it. The rest are donated. All the costs for the concert and then some are donated to a charity or veterans group.
Well, thank you for your time and for all you do.