There’s a “tremendous need” to support veterans who answered the call to serve on 9/11, after the terrorist strike that killed nearly 3,000 people on U.S. soil in 2001, says award-winning actor and philanthropist Gary Sinise.
“I probably would’ve hung it up a while ago, and it wouldn’t have manifested into a full-time mission,” Sinise said of the eponymous foundation he established in 2011 to support veterans who served after the 9/11 attacks. “The public supports (it) with their generous donations and allows us to reach out and touch people all over the country who are in need. And there are a lot of people in need.”
According to the USO, about a quarter million people served their country in the wake of 9/11 in both active duty and reserve forces. Over time, many have retired or are entering retirement with battlefield wounds after reaching 20 years of service.
According to VA’s 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, the suicide rate for veterans was 57% greater than non-veterans in 2020.
Sinise told CBS News that the way Afghanistan fell to the Taliban in 2021 was especially painful for service members who had been part of the war. “If you’re somebody that lived through that, multiple deployments throughout that time, saw friends lose their lives, get hurt, go into the hospitals, have to suffer terrible injuries and live with those injuries. And then you wonder, like why we went through all that.”
Sinise called it “a real moral injury,” adding, “People are struggling and suffering. We want them to know that regardless of what happened, their service mattered.”
Asked his thoughts on the 22nd anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Sinise said it was a personal turning point when he transitioned from “self to service.”
“What happened after Sept. 11 was something that changed my life completely. And it turned me from, you know, more of a focus on my acting career and the movie business and the theater stuff and television and all those things, to kind of doing something positive for others,” Sinise said.
Though nearly 30 years since he played a Vietnam veteran, Lt. Dan, a double amputee, in the Oscar-winning film “Forrest Gump,” Sinise said he could have never predicted he would still be living with the character so many years later.
“After Sept. 11, it was a turning point. And I started visiting the hospitals and walking in, and they … wouldn’t necessarily even know what my real name was,” Sinise said of the wounded servicemembers, “but they would recognize me as the character in the movie.”
Sinise said wounded service members want to know more about the character, his own life and what it was like to play a double amputee. “If you look at the story of Lieutenant Dan, it is very positive in the end,” Sinise said. “He’s a Vietnam veteran who survives and moves on and thrives. And that’s the story we want for everybody who’s wounded in battle, and to come home and be able to move on and go, go forward.
“I want the Gary Sinese Foundation to be as strong as possible so that our outreach is wide. And we can help as many people as possible in the coming years. And my goal would be to just stand up an organization that can live beyond me and keep going to help people,” Sinise said. “That’s my goal.”