This month, upwards of 600 servicemen, women and their families stood in a weaving line at Fort Belvoir, Va., for a chance to get a copy of “Grateful American: A Journey From Self to Service” signed by actor, director, philanthropist, and debut author, Gary Sinise. The autobiography was released only a couple days prior.
While Sinise writes about his family history — like how his Italian last name came to be pronounced “Sineece” — how acting undoubtedly saved his life, his coming to believe in God, and a detailed résumé account of his celebrity acting career, the book is themed around service to the United States. Reaching as far back as World War I but stemming mostly from the Vietnam War and 9/11, Sinise carefully illustrates the why behind his goodwill to servicemen and women.
In an interview after the two hour book signing, Sinise clarified the reasoning behind needing to transcribe it all, despite the military’s intimate familiarity with him.
“The past couple decades I built up quite an extensive travel history of going to places all over the world, visiting people, and meeting a lot of inspirational folks through the service work,” he said. “So I decided to do an autobiography that would take me from this singular focus of my acting career to the broader focus of the service to others and supporting our military men and women.”
The book begins after the movie “Forrest Gump” was released, and how Sinise’s role as disabled veteran Lt. Dan Taylor ultimately changed the course of his life. The moment he walked onto stage at a Disabled American Veterans convention in 1994 to be recognized for the awareness he brought to its community, was when he realized how the impact of an acting career and a celebrity status could bring positive attention the military and 9/11 communities he deeply cared for. The chapters do not continue chronologically, but all tie back to why he has spent more time on planes, on stages, and behind screens instead of with his wife, children, and two grandchildren.
Nearly every person that Sinise met that day was greeted as if they were a close friend of his, often embracing teary-eyed fans into a hug or giving them a genuine smile. Anna Gabavics, an Army spouse who stood among the first in line starting four hours before the signing began, took a moment to show Sinise a photo of the last time they met. In it with them is her husband, Col. Stephen Gabavics, who is currently deployed to Afghanistan. The copies she had signed were to be sent to him.
The connection Sinise makes with each individual is a genuine effort. In fact, one of the main takeaways he wishes military and their families get from the book is that “he remembers.”
“I want them to know that they are appreciated,” he said. “I want to go as far and wide as a I can, hit as many places as I can, and continue that message of gratitude, appreciation, and trying to encourage others to recognize that our military is out there every day doing something significant to keep us free and safe, and we should pat them on the back for that.”
The final chapters of the autobiography grapple with the death of loved ones, his own death, and legacies people leave behind. For Sinise, his legacy will not just be on screen but in the Gary Sinise Foundation that will continue to honor “defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need” long after his departure. The parallels between his foundation and the Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation are not lost on his followers.
“He’s the Bob Hope of today’s generation,” said Cecy Crary, a Navy spouse who waited alongside Anna Gabavics.
Retirement from Sinise’s life of giving, though, is not something that is likely to happen. He says he wants to try and play catch up with his family that grew up while he was on the road. He’s trying not to miss his grandchildren’s births — although he did during this book tour — and simply stay home more.
“One of the reasons I started the foundation was to eventually continue to have a service organization that was spreading my message of gratitude and appreciation, serving our heroes out there, entertaining them, providing services, building homes, and doing all kinds of things that I did before I had a foundation, but to continue this message of appreciation from me to the service members,” he said. “There is plenty of stuff that the foundation operates in that doesn’t require me to be a full-on presence all the time. Behind it all is that Gary thing saying thank you, and I appreciate you, and I want you to know I remember what you’re doing and I’m not going to forget about it.”
The military community will not be quick to forget Sinise’s positive impact, even if proven by the book’s rise to Amazon’s bestseller list within a week, or by how many people are willing to stand in line for hours to only have 30 seconds to thank him for his service to them and the country. Sinise proves that he really is a “Grateful American” in the pages of his first book.Read comments