For a mostly homebound veteran such as Jim Fowler, a visit from actor Gary Sinise was a bright spot in a humdrum day.
Fowler, who served with the Air Force in Vietnam, was undergoing therapy Thursday morning at Augusta’s uptown Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center when Sinise dropped by to shake hands with veterans and active-duty service members. Sinise, perhaps best known for his role as Lt. Dan Taylor in the movie Forrest Gump, was in town for a free concert Thursday night with his Lt. Dan Band at Fort Gordon’s Barton Field.
The stop at the VA is one of several Sinise has made in Augusta in advance of the performance and one of many he regularly makes throughout the year at stateside and international military installations, but it was a unique moment for Fowler and other veterans, including Army retiree Allen McDaniel.
“He really is the epitome of someone who cares for soldiers,” McDaniel said.
The Gary Sinise foundation was formed in 2010, but Sinise’s work with veterans goes back to the early 1980s, when he was artistic director at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. He worked closely with Vietnam veterans during the production of a play about the war and began a series of free performances for them. Sinise later drew on that experience to portray Lt. Dan, an Army officer who becomes a bitter amputee after a combat injury.
It was a signature role for Sinise, and cries of “Lt. Dan” follow him everywhere he goes, including Thursday morning. Sinise also produces CBS’s CSI:NY, on which he portrays Detective “Mac” Taylor.
“I love him as both roles,” McDaniel said.
As he left the VA, Sinise told The Augusta Chronicle that anyone who serves our country in defense of freedom deserves “our utmost respect and care.” He urges the public to get involved with military and veteran organizations because the government cannot meet all of the veterans’ needs.
“That’s where organizations … and charities devoted to military come into play,” Sinise said. “Those organizations are important because there is so much need in the veterans’ space.”