(NEW YORK) — Actor Gary Sinise has starred in his share of films of television shows, but there’s one role that still follows him nearly 20 years later: Lt. Dan.
Sinise, a longtime advocate for veterans’ interests, says his role as a double-amputee Vietnam War veteran in the iconic movie Forrest Gump changed his life forever. In addition to the instant stardom that followed, he says it “began a relationship with our disabled veterans and our wounded veterans.”
“I realized from the get-go that that particular character had been seen by so many people within the military community that it meant something to them,” Sinise tells Politics Confidential. “That particular character is bigger than a movie really.”
Though his interest in helping veterans began long before his role as Lt. Dan, Sinise says it has allowed him to make a remarkable connection with the military community. He tells the story of the first time he visited a military hospital: “I started walking by them and said hi to them and their faces were burned…you could tell that they had been through the war.”
“They started looking at me, and then they started recognizing that I was Lt. Dan, the faces changed, and they started talking to me about Lt. Dan and stuff and their faces changed, and their attitudes changed,” he said.
Harnessing the power of his type-casting, Sinise has since started a foundation dedicated to helping veterans and is currently working on an initiative to help veterans transition their military skills to civilian careers. He even started a band, naming it “The Lt. Dan Band.”
“I go into military communities and do fundraisers and that kind of thing with the band, because I know that the music can help do a lot of things. It can bring communities together, it can raise awareness…and it entertains,” says Sinise, who adds that he’s performed at so many military bases now that he’s lost count.
To hear more about the work that Sinise is doing for veterans, including what he says we need to do as a country to make sure we keep our promise to veterans, check out this episode of Politics Confidential.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio