Gary Sinise and the “Lt. Dan Band” lift spirits at Balboa Naval Hospital

BALBOA PARK – It is the story of a man whose acting role transcended into real life.

“I'm Lieutenant Dan Taylor, welcome to Fort Platoon.”

That line was spoken by actor Gary Sinise in the 1994 blockbuster Forrest Gump. Today, twenty years later, Sinise is playing the bass in the Lt. Dan Band, going all over the world to boost the spirits of US troops who have been wounded, an extended “thank you” for their service. Sinise and his band have been doing this for the last 10 years.

“How many times have you been to Iraq?” he asks a female servicemember on stage at one of his shows. “Seven,” she says. “Seven times to Iraq!” he exclaims, to audience cheers.

Sinise's efforts reaching out to US troops has earned him the moniker as the Bob Hope of the current war generation. In the same way Hope went to war zones to entertain US troops, Sinise is doing the same – and with an added touch. Celebrity chef Robert Irvine is part of his team, providing gourmet food for the troops while they enjoy the show.

Does Sinise think the Bob Hope comparison is valid? “No, no I'm just scary,” he says with a chuckle, rocking back and forth nervously. “(I'm just) trying, trying to do what I can to entertain and to support our military.”

“I always say we can never do enough for our veterans and those who serve our country, but we can always do a little bit more. That's what we try to do.”

“We're here to bring some joy and some light to people going through rehabilitation here for weeks, months, sometimes years. And so, everybody is working hard and we just want to give everybody a bit of a break.”

Among those wounded vets here this day – Jesse Cottle, who lost both of his legs in Afghanistan. “It just shows that he and his crew are so self-sacrificing to be here on a Saturday on their own time, doing this instead of doing plenty of other things they could be doing.”

For Sinise – whose Lt. Dan character lost both legs in Vietnam – it's a life-imitates-art experience.

“That (role) kind of led me to an association with the D.A.V, the Disabled American Veterans organization, that kinda started me on a support mission for our wounded.”

As Sinise and his band entertain the troops at Balboa Naval Hospital, he says this: whether you agree or disagree with this nation's conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, those vets should never be treated the way Vietnam vets were when they came home.

“That was a terrible period in our history when we did forget our veterans,” says Sinise, “and we just can't ever do that again.”


John Soderman

Categories: KUSI