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

Dwight D. Eisenhower, President, and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, signed Presidential Proclamation 371 in 1954. It called on all citizens to observe the Veterans Day on Thursday, November 11, 1954. The Armistice Day that had existed since 1918, when hostilities ended in WWI, was officially renamed America's Veterans Day. This special day is to remember "all those who fought so valiantly on the seas and on foreign shores to preserve our freedom heritage."
After playing Lieutenant Dan Taylor with Tom Hanks in 1994's Forrest Gump, I realized that I had a strong connection to these brave men. He was a proud soldier, whose ancestors died in every war in American history. His dedication to his country was what defined him. My family includes Vietnam veterans. I can recall what it was like to be in combat, then return home to find a country that turned its back on them for the unpopular war they served in. Many felt forgotten and were pushed into the shadows. The film reflected this experience and was a catalyst for me to advocate for veterans.

2003 was the year I started volunteering with the USO. That year, I traveled to Italy, Kuwait, Germany and Italy twice more. I was able to support my country through supporting those who were ready to fight back against the horrible attacks of September 11, 2001. I was able to reach out to veterans and military nonprofits in order to provide support and raise awareness. This allowed me to make an impact and reach more veterans. It became my full-time mission to let them know that they are not forgotten. This mission continues to this day.

The post-9/11 period was the longest-running armed conflict in American history. It included 20 years of war in Afghanistan. The bravery of active-duty service personnel can be easily forgotten, as veterans and their families aren't often in the spotlight. The veteran community is also dealing with serious mental health issues. Many veterans are willing to travel to dangerous and dark places in order that they can return home and deal with the psychological effects. It's not just the veteran that is affected but their families as well.

It's important to keep this in mind when honoring the service men and women who served our country in uniform. The government can only do so much. While it is vital, we shouldn't rely on the government for all the problems or challenges facing the approximately 20 million veterans in America. When people ask me how they can help, I tell them that I do the same thing. I look within my family and community to find out what I did. Over the years, I have learned that a simple gesture of appreciation or a pat on the back can make all the difference.

You can visit a local veteran who is living in the VA. Or perhaps you know someone in your area who is caring for a disabled veteran. When I see servicemen or veterans eating in restaurants, it has become a tradition for me to pick up their checks and leave a note of appreciation. It's easy to show your gratitude for the sacrifices made in support of our country by simply taking the time to thank them.

Only a small portion of the population defends us all. We, the citizens, have a vital role to play in supporting veterans. After all, we are the beneficiaries for the freedoms they fought for. Why should we expect them to continue volunteering to serve if we don't help them? It is crucial that we take care of them before, during, and after the battle.

Over the years, I have worked to make people's lives better. I have visited military bases and hospitals, and performed in war zones with my Lt. Dan Band at hospitals across the country. I've met some of the most selfless and extraordinary people I know. I started the Gary Sinise Foundation in order to continue my efforts to help others. It has become my life mission, and I am grateful for the support of thousands of citizens who have trusted us with our many programs.

It is simple: If every citizen of every city and town in every state made it a priority each day to honor veterans by reaching out to those in need and supporting them, then the difficulties and problems facing veterans would be significantly reduced.

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

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