Award-winning actor, Gary Sinise, had no idea when he accepted the role as Army Lt. Dan Taylor in the Academy Awarding-winning motion picture “Forrest Gump,” that he would soon become one the nation’s most ardent supporters and advocates for those who are serving and have served in the military, especially wounded warriors.

In 1994, about six weeks after “Forrest Gump” opened in theaters, Gary received a call from the Disabled American Veterans asking him to come to their national convention as they wanted to “give him something.”

“I was slightly prepared for what I was going to see but not really,” said Gary, whose Lt. Dan character lost both legs during the Vietnam War. “I looked out at the ballroom, and there were 2,000 wounded veterans in there, and I was completely stunned. Some on crutches, a lot of guys in wheelchairs, and they were applauding me. And then they gave me that award. It was life changing.”

Midway Museum board chair, Chris Neils, presents Gary with the Midway American Patriot Award.

After participating in several USO shows held at U.S. military bases around the world, Gary, a bass guitarist, formed the Lt. Dan Band in 2003. The band has been entertaining American servicemembers stationed in the United States and overseas for nearly 20 years, and continues to raise money for disabled veterans’ programs. Gary took his support to the next level in 2011 when he founded the Gary Sinise Foundation to serve and honor active-duty military, veterans and first responders.

“Everything that I do, and everything that I want my Foundation to do, is about lifting people up and making them stronger,” said Gary, who received an Academy Award nomination for best actor in a supporting role for his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor. 

“The USS Midway Museum proudly presents the Midway American Patriot Award to Gary Sinise for patriotism and selfless devotion to the military, veterans and first responders that defend our freedoms,” said Mac McLaughlin, president and CEO of the USS Midway Museum, during the gala’s award program.

“It was a true honor to join humanitarian, founder, and my friend Gary Sinise, alongside the Gary Sinise Foundation team, to see him receive the prestigious Midway America Patriot Award for his life’s work of tirelessly serving our nation’s veterans and first-responder communities,” said Gib Bosworth, vice president of strategic initiatives and outreach for the Gary Sinise Foundation. “The USS Midway team did a fantastic job hosting the special night celebrating Gary and his mission to serve our nation’s heroes.”

The USS Midway Museum paid tribute to Gary and the Gary Sinise Foundation at its 2022 American Patriot Award Gala.

In San Diego alone, the Gary Sinise Foundation has adapted nine homes with smart technologies for wounded combat veterans; served nearly 27,000 meals to military members, veterans and first responders; and has held several “Invincible Spirit Festivals” at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

Gary accepts the Midway American Patriot Award.

“I don’t think we can ever do enough for our freedom providers,” said Gary. “It’s difficult work, and sometimes very heavy prices are paid. And if somebody’s going to volunteer to do that for me, then I feel a sense of responsibility to at least make sure that they know that they’re appreciated.”

“We started working with the Gary Sinise Foundation last fall and I saw a team truly committed to showing up for our military families,” said Laura White, president of the USS Midway Foundation. “I have been a fan of Gary Sinise’s work for three decades and am a huge fan of his philanthropic work. He is kind, humble and authentic. He’s the real deal and truly defines a great American patriot. He was very deserving of the Midway American Patriot Award.”

While the gala honored Gary and his foundation, the proceeds from this annual event continue to directly support a variety Midway’s educational outreach programs through the museum’s No Child Left Ashore Scholarship Fund.

Gary receives a Tophatters’ squadron print from Midway docent and World War II veteran Joe Neves.

“We mean it when we say no child left ashore,” said Maddy Kilkenny, a member of the Midway’s board of directors and the chair of the museum’s education committee. “Costs should never be a barrier to high-impact and high-quality educational opportunities. These programs are funded by the phenomenal success of the Midway Museum and the proceeds of the gala.”

Midway’s elementary through post-graduate programs that benefit from the gala include San Diego County-wide school field trips to Midway, a Leadership Academy that focuses on future generations’ character development skills, the museum’s Institute for Teachers professional development seminars, important STEM curricula, and the ship’s overnight youth learning program.

“Each year thousands of students have been able to visit Midway and participate in social studies, history, leadership and STEM programs at no cost to the visiting schools,” said Wayne Nuzzolo, Midway’s assistant director of education and school programs. “With the continued support of our gala patrons, corporate and individuals, we look forward to making sure every child in San Diego County has a chance to experience the magic of the USS Midway Museum.”

Through the kind generosity of many Midway benefactors and donors, the museum’s ability to offer a wild range of educational programs to students and teachers continues to flourish.

“Our partners and gala sponsors make all the difference,” said Craig Fisher, Midway’s director of partnership marketing. “Their commitment to STEM education, their culture of giving back, and their support for those who serve is in lockstep with Midway’s focus and priorities. Their financial support for the gala enables us to acknowledge and celebrate true American patriots like Gary Sinise while providing important funding for education scholarships.”

For Gary, whose education about what it was like to serve in the military came from three generations of his own family wearing the uniform of our nation during five wars over the past century, he will continue to do all he can to support those who protect the freedoms all American cherish.

“It’s really a privilege to be here on the Midway with my team to receive this award,” said Gary. “I’m a grateful American. If that makes me a patriot, then I’m a patriot. If showing up can inspire others to go out there and do the same, I’ll keep showing up.”

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