Actor, musician shows support for military with concert

For military police Cpl. Dan Ropp, seeing Gary Sinise was like having a reunion with an old friend.

Ropp was in the security detail at the Cherry Point base theater Tuesday afternoon when he ran into the actor, musician and all around supporter of the military.

“It’s pretty neat being able to see him after all these years. It’s pretty amazing,” Ropp said after the meeting. “He was flying in a helicopter doing the USO tour in Iraq in 2003. He signed my flight helmet and we got to fly together and talk quite a bit. It’s amazing. I never thought I’d see him again. He’s an outstanding individual and takes very good care of his troops. He’s really here for us and that’s awesome.”

Sinise brought his Lt. Dan Band to Cherry Point for a concert in front of about 2,000 fans Tuesday night at the air station theater

“I appreciate all that our men and women do for us,” Sinise said in an interview before the concert. “I’m there to play for you and all your pals and make sure that everybody has a good time.

“I’m with our military a lot, so I’m out there all the time and there are so many stories of inspiration to me and motivation to keep me going that I could spend all day talking to you about all the difference stories that I have.”

Sinise said the world is a dangerous place and the country needs to maintain a strong military and a strong defense.

“So if there is a young person like this who wants to go out there and defend our country, sign up to do their duty and serve, then I, as a citizen who benefits from the freedom provided by these defenders, I feel I have a responsibility too, to make sure that they know that what they do is appreciated,” said Sinise. “So I try to go out there and entertain and educate folks about what our military does because I get to see the military on the inside in a way that the average American doesn’t get to see simple because I am spending so much time going to where the military is, and I can come out of that because I have a public platform.

“I’m on bases all over the country all the time and all around the world and I have seen the military in action and we have a lot to be proud of with our young service members who have chosen military service, and if I can just highlight that and shine a little light on that and let them know that I’m grateful for them, maybe that will help them get through the next day.”

Among his many roles, Sinise starred in the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump” in which he played Lt. Dan Taylor, a wounded Vietnam veteran struggling to integrate back into society after the war.

“I think the story of Lt. Dan is a hopeful story because as a Vietnam veteran he went through a lot of familiar challenges the way our Vietnam veterans did when they came home from war,” Sinise said. “Lt. Dan was in a lot of anguish. He was angry at what happened to him. He didn’t deal with it well initially but eventually what happened to Lt. Dan is very hopeful and he’s standing up again at the end of the movie and he’s moving on with his life and that’s pretty much what we want for everybody who serves our country and especially if you’re wounded or something like that and you have to retire the way he did. He was medical retired and he just disappeared like so many Vietnam veterans.

“It’s a beautiful story when you see him standing up again and he’s a successful business guy and he’s moving on. I talk about that story because I meet so many of our wounded all the time in the hospitals and I want them to be OK like he is, moving on with their life, putting their war experience behind them and being successful, and being able to overcome the challenges of serving your country and getting hurt. We don’t want people to fall through the cracks and unfortunately we do, and what we try to do with the Gary Sinise Foundation is be there when needed and address the needs when we see them.”

Sinise started doing USO tours and eventually started bringing musicians with him, eventually forming the band that did its first overseas tour in 2004.

“We’ve done upwards of 150 USO shows in 13 years and another 200 something shows for military charities and different awareness raising opportunities and support opportunities. I do it now through the Gary Sinise Foundation,” he said. “The band is part of my foundation. The American people support my foundation and so they are supporting you here today by helping me bring the band out to entertain you.”

The foundation has a new program called RISE, which stands for Restoring Independence and Supporting Empowerment.

“It’s a program specifically designed for folks who have been injured in battle and it started really with an effort to build a house for our first surviving quadruple amputee,” said Sinise. “He lost both his arms and both his legs In Iraq in 2009. He’s from Staten Island. Some buddies of mine and the FDNY wanted me to help them raise money to build a house for him. That began an effort to build homes for a lot of our wounded. I would do that by raising money and building awareness and about 22 of these guys I went out and did concerts for them. 

“To see our wounded service members with a crowd of thousands out there and there just for them, to support them, to raise money for them, to rally behind them in these small communities all across the country, that’s very heartwarming to me, that there’s a little bit that I can do to kind of be this attention getter to help shine a light on somebody who’s wounded and help inspire that community to get behind that person and help them.”

Three years ago, Sinise was pinned as an honorary member of the Marine Corps in a surprise ceremony in the nation’s capital.

“I was pinned as an honorary Marine and I’m very, very proud of that. I know that that doesn’t happen to a lot of folks,” said Sinise. “They surprised me by bringing me into the community and I will always be very proud of that, just to be embraced in that way by the military community in that way to me it means everything.”

Beth McKenzie, of Marine Corps Community Services, said that the Lt. Dan Band had never been to Cherry Point.

“He’s been to other bases in the area, but he hasn’t been to Cherry Point,” said McKenzie. “He’s such a huge supporter of the military and does so much for the military. People know who he is because he’s a television star also. Everybody’s just real excited that he’s here today.”

Pat Beck, a Marine veteran who serves as retail director at the base theater, said Sinise’s efforts for the military is appreciated.

“It’s incredible, absolutely fantastic,” Beck said. “I think everybody here has been watching his movies and watching his television shows for years. I just think it’s a fantastic thing what he’s doing for the Marines on base here. It’s incredible. In all honesty, I don’t think anybody is as famous or as appreciated as Gary Sinise for what he’s done. He doesn’t have to do this. I am sure he’s got plenty of other things he could be doing, probably sitting on a beach on an island someplace, but for him to come here and do what he’s doing is amazing, for him to take his time out of his schedule to come and do this for the Marines is fantastic.”