“Grateful American” by Gary Sinise

Bush Foundation guests were treated to a heartwarming, special evening on May 1st when acclaimed actor and humanitarian Gary Sinise came to the Annenberg Conference Center where he discussed his New York Times bestseller, “Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service”, and the inspiring work of the Gary Sinise Foundation. Before the evening was over Sinise would earn two standing ovations from a most appreciative, capacity crowd. This was Sinise’s third visit to the Bush Center — the first two being at the invitation of President and Mrs. Bush. The first occasion was in 2011 to debut the documentary about his Lieutenant Dan Band called “For the Common Good,” and the second time was to attend a Texas A&M football game with the Bushes — during which a technical difficulty gave Sinise an impromptu bonding experience with Mrs. Bush. “Imagine getting stuck in the elevator with Mrs. Bush,” Sinise recalled, to the delight of the audience. “She was not happy about the elevator, but it was pretty funny.”

Gary discussed how, as a kid in suburban Chicago, he was more interested in sports and rock-n-roll than reading or schoolwork. But when he impulsively auditioned for a school production of “West Side Story,” he found his purpose — or so it seemed. Within a few years Gary and a handful of friends created what became one of the most exciting and important new theater companies in America. From its home in a church basement in Highland Park, Illinois, the Steppenwolf Theatre launched a series of groundbreaking productions, igniting Gary’s career along with those of John Malkovich, Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Laurie Metcalf, Dennis Farina, John Mahoney, and others.

Television and film came calling soon after, and Gary starred in Of Mice and Men (which he directed) and The Stand before taking the role that would change his life in unforeseeable ways: Lieutenant Dan in the Academy Award winning Forrest Gump. The military community’s embrace of the character of the disabled veteran was matched only by the depth of Gary’s realization that America’s defenders had not received all the honor, respect, and gratitude their sacrifices deserve.

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, this became Gary’s mission. While starring in hits like Apollo 13, Ransom, Truman, George Wallace, CSI: NY, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Gary has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who serve this country, entertaining more than a half-million troops around the world playing bass guitar with his Lieutenant Dan Band, raising funds on behalf of veterans, and eventually founding the Gary Sinise Foundation with a mission to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. The Bush Foundation could not have been more honored, or grateful ourselves, to host such a humble, thoughtful and selfless individual.