By Larry D. Croom -
December 28, 2018
Actor Gary Sinise, best known for his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in the Academy Award-winning 1994 movie “Forrest Gump,” is coming to The Villages.
Sinise will visit Florida’s Friendliest Hometown on Feb. 21 as part of a nationwide tour promoting his new book titled “Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service.” He will be hosted by Villagers for Veterans at the Savannah Center from 10 a.m. to noon. Tickets for the event are $35 and include a signed copy of Sinise’s book. They will be sold through The Villages Box Office locations and at thevillagesentertainment.com beginning Jan. 3. A limited number of free tickets will be available for World War II veterans with proper military identification on a first come, first served basis.
Marie Bogdonoff, founder and president of Villagers for Veterans, said she’s thrilled to have Sinise coming to The Villages. She said truly appreciates his immense efforts to honor and serve veterans through the Gary Sinise Foundation.
“I’m very excited,” she said Friday afternoon. “We’ve been talking with Gary and trying to get him to come to The Villages for a long time.”
Bogdonoff said the event will include a meet-and-greet with the actor who also starred in the 1995 hit movie “Apollo 13,” as well as a question-and-answer session. She said Sinise also will talk about his foundation and then sign copies of his new book and pose for photos with those who attend the event.
“I think it’s amazing what his foundation has been able to do to help veterans,” she said.
Bogdonoff said she’s also hopeful that once Sinise sees The Villages and learns about how many veterans live here, he’ll bring his “Lt. Dan Band” to perform in the community during another visit. That band, named after Sinise’s character in “Forrest Gump,” was founded by Sinise and Kimo Williams and performs at USO shows, entertains troops and raises money for disabled veterans. Sinise has said many times that he decided to name the band for the “Forrest Gump” character because more people seem to know him as Lt. Dan by than by his real name.
“People talk about The Villages but most have no idea that we have so many veterans living here,” Bogdonoff said. “But they know who Gary is and they really appreciate the work he’s done for veterans.”
After playing the role of the disabled Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump,” Sinise discovered that the military community had embraced his character. And he also quickly realized that America’s defenders had not received all the honor, respect and gratitude their sacrifices deserve.
So in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, Sinise began working tirelessly on behalf of veterans. And since that time, he’s entertained more than a half million troops around the world while playing bass guitar with his Lt. Dan Band.
The group also has raised money for veterans and the effort led to the founding of Sinise’s foundation, which honors veterans, first responders, their families and those in need.
That story and more is told in “Grateful American,” which promises to be a “moving, entertaining, profoundly gripping story of how one man found his calling: to see that those who defend this country and its freedoms are never forgotten.”
Bogdonoff founded Villagers for Veterans in 2014 to help severely injured veterans. In just four years, the group has raised close to a million dollars and has given 23 all-terrain chairs and six service dogs to wounded veterans.
But the group’s biggest project by far has come this year while raising money to build a “smart” home for Sgt. Pam Kelly. The 17-year Army medic was injured and permanently paralyzed while training for deployment to Iraq. And after a recent Honor Flight experience, she said she’s thoroughly looking forward to living in the community in the near future.