Gary Sinise: So Many Veterans Feel Forgotten. Here’s How You Can Honor Them

Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President in 1954 and John Foster Dulles as Secretary of State. They signed Presidential Proclamation No. 3071, requesting that citizens observe the Veterans Day on Thursday, November 11. What had been Armistice Day since 1918 and the end of hostilities in WWI, officially became America’s Veterans Day—a special day to honor “all those who fought so valiantly, on the seas, in the air, and on foreign shores, to preserve our heritage of freedom.”

I played Lieutenant Dan Taylor, the film’s director in 1994. Forrest GumpTom Hanks was a friend and an inspiration to me. He was proud to be a soldier, whose family had been in all of the wars in American history. His dedication to his country was what defined him. Vietnam vets are a part of my family. As such, I know what it was like to return to their country after they returned from combat. Many were left feeling forgotten, and some even disappeared into the darkness. I was affected by this film and it became the catalyst of my work to advocate for the veterans community.

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The USO sent me to Iraq in 2003 to volunteer. It also took me to Germany, Italy, Kuwait and Germany. As a supporter of my country, I was willing to help others who fought back against the horrific attacks of September 11, 2001. Reaching out to various military and veterans nonprofits to offer support, raising funds and awareness became a way for me to make a difference and reach more of our nation’s veterans. A full-time mission was to just let veterans know they weren’t forgotten. It has remained a mission to this day.

This post 9/11 period has been the longest armed conflict in our nation’s history, 20 years of sacrifice in Afghanistan alone. Yet the bravery of our active-duty service men and women can easily be forgotten as they, our veterans, and the families who stand alongside them aren’t regularly in the spotlight. The veteran community is also dealing with serious mental health issues. They willingly go into dark and dangerous places around the world and upon returning home often struggle with the psychological effects of what they’ve seen long after they’ve returned to civilian life. And it’s not only the veteran who is affected, but also that of their families.

With that in mind, it’s important to remember that there are many ways we can honor the men and women who have served our nation in uniform. Only so much can the government do. Although it is vitally important, we shouldn’t rely on government to resolve all of the issues and problems facing nearly 20 million veterans across the U.S. People often ask me what they can do to help. I encourage people to look in their own families and communities for ideas. I’ve learned over the many years that just showing up with an appreciative handshake or pat on the back can make a big difference.

You can visit a local veteran in need of assistance. I’ve made it a special tradition when seeing service members or veterans dining in a restaurant (they often wear hats with their branch of service written on it) to anonymously pick up their check and leave a message of thanks to them. Your small gesture of appreciation for veterans who have served our country will go a long way in making a difference.

Only a small portion of the population defends us all. We, the citizens of this country, have a responsibility to support our veterans. After all, we are beneficiaries of the freedoms they gave their lives for. If we don’t support them, why should we expect anyone to continue to volunteer to serve? It’s imperative that we care for them Before During AfterIt is a battle.

Over the years, I’ve tried my best to make people aware of their problems as a public figure. I’ve visited hospitals and military bases, performed with my Lt. Dan Band in war zones, at military bases and hospitals across the country. It has been an honor to meet the most amazing and selfless individuals who served and are serving. I am proud to have created the Gary Sinise Foundation in order to continue my mission to assist others. For me it has been my life’s mission and I am grateful for the thousands of citizens that support our programs and have given their trust.

It is simple: If every resident of every city and town in the United States made it a point to recognize veterans every day and reach out to those in need, we would see fewer of the problems and difficulties facing veterans.

We are grateful to all veterans for their service on Veterans Day.


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