Disabled troops inspire Gary Sinise to give back

Actor Gary Sinise's role as amputee "Lt. Dan" in "Forrest Gump" made him a hero to real-life disabled veterans and inspired Sinise to help build homes for the most gravely wounded.

(CBS News) Actor Gary Sinise has spent decades performing on stage and screen, but he's probably best known for a single role: Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. In the film, he portrays an Army officer who loses both legs in Vietnam, a character that made Sinise something of a patron saint to real-life amputees. Inspired by their heroism, Sinise co-founded the Lt. Dan Band to entertain U.S. troops and raise money for gravely wounded warriors. David Martin speaks with Sinise about his efforts, and with the veterans and their families whose lives he's changed.

To learn more about the Gary Sinise Foundation -- including how you can help -- click here.

The following script is from "The Role of a Lifetime" which originally aired on May 13, 2012. David Martin is the correspondent. Mary Walsh and Tadd Lascari, producers.

Everybody, myself included, will tell you meeting the wounded from America's wars is a life-changing experience. That's certainly what happened to the actor Gary Sinise. You may know him as Detective Mac Taylor, the character he plays on the CBS series "CSI: NY," or as "Lieutenant Dan," the gung-ho Army officer who loses both legs in Vietnam in the film classic "Forrest Gump."

But you probably don't know he plays bass guitar in a band named after Lt. Dan that will give nearly 50 concerts this year to raise money for wounded warriors or to just plain entertain troops and their families. Sinise has been acting professionally ever since he was in high school. He's played presidents and astronauts, criminals and cops, but it was Lt. Dan that turned into the role of a lifetime.

[Announcer: Let's hear it for Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band!]

Since his first USO tour to Iraq in 2003, Gary Sinise has entertained nearly a quarter million American troops and their families.

Gary Sinise: We've been all over the world. I bet you we've been on more bases than you have.

But there was a time when he couldn't even get the USO to return his calls.

Gary Sinise: I'm not sure the USO knew who I was back then because I kept calling and I kept trying to reach them.

So he dropped a name the USO was sure to recognize.

[Lt. Dan: I'm Lieutentant Dan Taylor and welcome to Fort Platoon.]

Gary Sinise: I'm the guy that played Lt. Dan, if they don't know who Gary Sinise is.

Lt. Dan Taylor only appears in Forrest Gump for about 20 minutes but with the exception of Forrest himself, played by Tom Hanks, he is its best known character -- an over the top Army officer who sets out to win glory in Vietnam and ends up losing his legs.

[Forrest Gump: Lt Dan!!]

He is mired in booze and depression and headed straight for the bottom, only to be saved by the invincible innocence and optimism of Forrest Gump.

[Lt. Dan: Goddamn bless America]

Gary Sinise: He's angry at God and angry at life and all of that, but he's able to put that all in perspective and move on, and at the end of the movie he's rich and he's-- and he's married and he's standing up on two legs and he's a whole different guy.

That was 1994, when movies about Vietnam vets didn't have happy endings.

[Lt. Dan: I thought I'd try out my sea legs.

Forrest Gump: But you ain't got no legs, Lt. Dan.]

Gary Sinise: It's, I think, probably the first time that a Vietnam veteran had been portrayed as somebody who could overcome his obstacles and his challenges and move on from the Vietnam War.