In 1994, a movie came out that would forever change the way we see physically disabled and mentally broken veterans of wars. Forrest Gump featured Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan Taylor, an officer in the platoon in which Tom Hank’s Forrest Gump and his friend Bubba served when they were deployed to Vietnam. Later in the movie, Gump reconnects with the former officer, “Lt. Dan,” who by then is in a wheelchair and struggling with civilian life.
While Sinise’s role in Forrest Gump helped propel his mission of advocacy for veterans, his work with them really started nearly 40 years ago. As far back as the 1980s, Sinise supported veterans by welcoming them to the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago, where he would host veterans and their families for dinners and shows.
Since then, he has dedicated his life to supporting military families and has even created The Gary Sinese Foundation to push for programs and raise funds that give back to service men, women and families.
One of his programs is the Snowball Express. Each December, children grieving the loss of a parent to war, and their surviving parents or guardians are treated to 5 days of fun and encouragement. The most recent Snowball Express saw 1,750 of these kids and parents treated to Disney World. All flights, accommodations and attraction tickets were paid for by the foundation and their corporate partners.
Sinise took to social media to send off the decorated plane filled with excited children and to thank American Airlines for their participation in the event.
“Over 1000 Gold Star Children travel w/ surviving parent, 1,750 in all, via @americanair to Disney World today as part of our @GarySiniseFound Snowball Express program. This charter left LAX this morning. I’ll join up in a few days. Have fun kids! We love you!”
The kids and the parents loved the experience. And–tissue alert ahead–almost an entire concourse at Nashville International Airport stopped their hustle and bustle to sing The Star-Spangled Banner to 100 of these children who had lost so much as they waited to board their flight to Disney World.
The Snowball Express is just one of many amazing projects supported by the Gary Sinise Foundation and by Sinise himself. With his band, the Lt. Dan Band, he appears at charity events all across the country. The Foundation also provides meals, smart housing for disabled vets and countless other services to military members and their families all year round.