Soon after audiences saw him in "Forrest Gump" playing an amputee war vet, actor Gary Sinise was given an award that helped change his life and those of many real disabled veterans. The "CSI: NY" star discusses his fundraising for wounded troops and the role of a lifetime that led to those efforts with correspondent David Martin on 60 Minutes, Sunday, May 13 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
Sinise got a phone call a few weeks after the debut of "Forrest Gump," the film in which he played his breakout role as Lt. Dan Taylor, a soldier who loses his legs in Vietnam. "The Disabled American Veterans, they wanted to give me something for playing a disabled veteran," he recalls. "There were 3,000 people in this ballroom. Those that could stand were all standing, giving me an ovation...I was so moved by it and really caught off guard by the emotion," he tells Martin.
The irony of them applauding him touched him deeply. "I'm an actor...I play parts, you know? These people lived the part that I played and were wounded and severely wounded, some of them, and they were applauding me for playing a part," says Sinise.
This helped instill in Sinise a life-changing appreciation for the military and the sacrifices they make. He began entertaining soldiers and their families with the USO and eventually playing benefit concerts to raise money for veterans with multiple amputations. He and his band of professional musicians, "The Lieutenant Dan Band," play about 50 concerts a year, raising money for disabled veterans, mostly used to build homes that accommodate their injuries.
Sinise and his band have played for the USO since 2004, but at first, it took him several attempts before the USO returned his calls. "Initially, I'm not sure the USO knew who I was back then," he tells Martin. Despite the supporting role his character, "Lt. Dan," played in the classic film, it is the most remembered after the title role played by Tom Hanks. For Sinise, it became the role of a lifetime.
"I'm the guy that played Lt. Dan," he says he told the USO, "If they don't know who Gary Sinise is."