Rallying the troops
GARY SINISE talks about his conversion and his passion for aiding wounded vets . . .
Gary Sinise had one foot in the Catholic Church more than 15 years before he signed up for RCIA. Even though he was raised in an unchurched Chicago- area family, Sinise wore his brother-in-law’s rosary around his neck while filming his role as Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump.
In that Oscar-nominated role, Sinise wore the rosary — with a St. Christopher medal inscribed with “Protect Us In Combat” — and dog tags belonging to Jack Treese, his wife’s brother who served as a Vietnam combat medic in the late 1960s.
A few years after wrapping his most famous film role, Sinise and his wife Moira were driving to Charlotte, N.C., in an effort to outrun a hurricane and catch a plane to safer ground.
“She was already thinking of going through the RCIA program,” Sinise explained in a phone interview from his office in Los Angeles. “It’s raining and the storm is coming in, and we’re trying to outrun this hurricane. She turned to me and said that when we got home she was going to become a Catholic and our kids were going to go to Catholic school.
“All I knew about Catholic school at that point was from some of my Catholic buddies who said nuns were scary and that kind of thing,” he said. “So I’m like, ‘Catholic school? No. We just moved, and there’s a public school across the street — and it’s free!’”
Moira Sinise made good on her promise to become Catholic. She entered an RCIA program and enrolled the couple’s three children in a local Catholic school. The family began going to Mass together, and the actor soon started noticing changes in his family.
“Back in the late ’90s, we had gone through some very dark times in our family with alcohol,” he explained. “My wife had recently given up drinking and became Catholic, and I had started to see just how positive it was for our kids being in the Catholic school — compared to the public school — as we were bumping over that period of time. It became a kind of comforting place. Even though I wasn’t Catholic, I was grateful for this little school and the Church and what it was providing for our family.”
Meanwhile, his career was on a role. After Forrest Gump picked up six Academy Awards — including Best Picture and a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Sinise — he went on to star in Apollo 13, The Green Mile and Ransom before landing the lead role as Detective Mac Taylor in the CBS drama CSI: NY.
During this time, Sinise says his perception of Catholicism began to change radically. He sought out a priest who took him through a private RCIA program. Then, on Christmas Eve 2010, the actor was ready to spring a life-changing surprise on his family.
“I asked everybody to dress up and put on good clothes,” he said. “We were on our way to Morton’s Steakhouse, and I pulled into the church parking lot and my wife said, ‘What are we doing here? Aren’t we going to dinner?’
“I said, ‘We’re stopping here for a minute.’ The priest was there and he officially confirmed me with just my family — just my three kids and my wife. We had it all set up to surprise them and then we went out to dinner.”
Faith and service
Sinise — who headlines the Annual Legatus Summit Jan. 29-31 in Naples, Fla. — says his journey to the Catholic Church went hand-in-glove with his passion for serving the troops — and in particular wounded veterans.
“Because of the Vietnam veterans on my wife’s side of the family — including my brother-in-law Jack — I started focusing on Vietnam veterans in the early ’80s,” he explained. “I started talking to them, learning what they’d done in the war and how things were when they got home. That started me thinking a lot.”
When Sinise had the opportunity in 1993 to audition for Lt. Dan opposite Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, he jumped at it.
“I wanted that role very badly because I had been involved with Vietnam veterans for 10 years prior to that,” he said. “I was lucky that I was given that part. That’s how I got involved with our wounded, because I was playing a wounded soldier and that led me to getting involved with the Disabled American Veterans organization. That’s lasted 20 years now.”
But it wasn’t until after the 9/11 attacks that the Academy Award nominee really ramped up his efforts to aid the troops.
“I felt this calling, very clear calling as to where my service efforts could be most effective,” he explained. “I remember standing in the church a few days after Sept. 11. The church was packed and the priest was very moving. I was crying through all that stuff. I felt this calling to use what I had to support our men and women who are serving.”
The actor established the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, which raises funds to build custom “smart homes” for America’s severely wounded heroes. Each home features automated amenities to help wounded vets restore their everyday independence. By the end of 2014, the foundation will have begun or finished 30 smart homes.
He got his first guitar in fourth grade. “We would just put records on and have concerts in our living room for the neighborhood kids who would watch us lip-synch to Beach Boys records,” he said. “And then eventually I learned how to play a little bit. I was playing in bands from sixth grade all the way up to my early 20s.”
His Lt. Dan Band has performed for more than 300,000 troops and their families in the U.S., Belgium, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Iraq, and Afghanistan, among others. They have performed in more than 60 USO tours and 140 USO concerts. The band plays 30 to 40 shows each year, with 75% of those shows for charities, benefits or the USO.
Sinise’s passion for service is born from his love of country and from his Catholic faith. But it also flows from his profound admiration for those who selflessly lay down their lives to keep America free.
When Sinise was in Afghanistan a few years ago, he had the chance to watch the preparations at Bagram Air Field for an angel flight, which takes fallen soldiers home.
“I walked with the general onto the plane and the casket was there covered with an American flag,” he said. “We knelt down by the casket and had a moment. This happened over and over with the soldiers who were there before the flight took off. I’ve had lots of very moving, important moments that have played a significant role in me trying to keep awareness up as to what our men and women in uniform are going through.
“It’s very much part of the same thing — the veterans’ work and the Catholic faith journey,” he said. “Service work, charitable giving and all that selfless sacrifice are so much part of the faith.”
PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.
Your invitation to the 2015 Summit
The clock is ticking down to Legatus’ 2015 Summit — and excitement is building toward the Jan. 29-31 event at The Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples, Fla. Because a capacity crowd of more than 500 participants is anticipated, organizers suggest booking a room as early as possible.
“The schedule is full of speakers that will entertain, educate and enrich our spiritual lives,” said Laura Sacha, Legatus’ conference director. “Hosted by Legatus’ Indianapolis Chapter, the Summit’s theme — Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s — is timely given the tremendous attack on religious liberty from today’s secular culture.”
The Summit’s roster of speakers and special guests is impressive:
• Bret Baier, host of Fox News’ Special Report
• Legates Peter & Marilyn Coors, Coors Brewing Co.
• Author Chris Crowley
• Paul Darrow, Courage ministry
• Bishop Frank Dewane, Diocese of Venice
• New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan
• Comedian Tom Dreesen
• Jennifer Fulwiler, author and convert
• Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal
• Al Kresta, Ave Maria Radio
• Actor and activist Gary Sinise
• Fr. Robert Sirico, Acton Institute founder
• Pam Stenzel, Chastity author and activist
A special exhibit of artifacts and memorabilia that once belonged to St. Mother Theodore Guerin will be on display. Thomas Aquinas College hosts a discussion seminar about the meaning and importance of Dignitatus Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, and the annual Legatus golf outing takes place at Tiburon.
For more details, click here or call (866) 534-2887.