Gary Sinise has played many roles in his distinguished film and television career. His most well-known role is his portrayal of “Lieutenant Dan” in the Oscar-winning film “Forrest Gump.”
Lieutenant Dan suffered grievous wounds during the Vietnam War, losing both his legs. He returned home an angry young man. One of the men in his Army infantry platoon, Forrest Gump, portrayed by Tom Hanks, befriended him and finally — after many years battling through Lieutenant Dan’s bitterness — won him over.
Sinise has been a champion for veterans ever since. And on Sunday, which is Veterans Day, he and fellow actor Joe Mantegna — another outspoken advocate for veterans — are playing host to a program, “A National Salute to Veterans.” The program airs on KACV-TV at 7 p.m.
They will salute the service of the nation’s 22 million surviving veterans.
Indeed, as an Army veteran myself, I welcome programs such as this one. And I admire the dedication of entertainers such as Sinise and Mantegna who spend some of their celebrity capital on behalf of those who wore their nation’s military uniform.
The nation’s oldest veterans, those who served in World War II, are dying at a rate of more than 1,000 each day. Around 16 million young men and women served during that terrible struggle against tyranny and only around 2 million of them are still with us. Korean War veterans are nearly as old and they, too, are seeing their ranks dwindle. Roughly 3 million men and women served in Vietnam and they returned to a nation that didn’t appreciate the valor they exhibited while serving in harm’s way; Americans instead got caught up in the political struggle at home over the conduct of the war and, sadly, inflicted grave emotional injury on many returning veterans, blaming them merely for following orders.
Operation Desert Storm and the following conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have seen a renewed appreciation for the service of our veterans and the nation is profoundly better for it.
But let’s remember that all veterans, regardless of the nature of their service, deserve an expression of gratitude.