Tony Rossi, Director of Communications, The Christophers
How 9/11 Changed Actor Gary Sinise
Actor Gary Sinise’s role as Lt. Dan Taylor in the movie “Forrest Gump” led him to charity work for
veteran’s causes—and his wife’s conversion to Catholicism introduced him to the Church. But it was on
September 11, 2001, that those two forces came together and set Gary on a course that would change
lives – both his own and those of others in need.
During a “Christopher Closeup” interview with me about his memoir “Grateful American,” Gary recalled the devastation he felt at the loss of life that occurred on 9/11. He and his family went to their church for a memorial Mass, and he said, “I remember...crying through the Mass [and feeling] that service to others was a great healer…I wanted to do everything I could for the [servicemen and women] who were deploying in reaction to that terrible event…I started going to war zones, hospitals, entertaining on military bases across the country and around the world. I started raising money for multiple military charities...I found that the more I gave, the more relief I received...Was it God calling me to service? It very well could be….This is a life mission.”
During a 2003 flight to Iraq for the USO, Gary found himself seated next to a man he didn’t recognize. The stranger introduced himself as retired fireman John Vigiano Sr. His two sons, Joe and John Jr. – one with the NYPD, one with the FDNY – were both killed on 9/11 in the World Trade Center’s collapse.
Vigiano Sr. went down to Ground Zero to dig through the rubble looking for his sons and observed how people from all over the world volunteered to pass out food and water and help in any way possible. The grieving father saw this as the true spirit of America, united in a common cause. Gary recalled, “[John] said to me, ‘You know, I think more good came out of that terrible day than evil.’ He said that because he saw the good pour into that terrible area filled with dust, smoke, and debris. I get choked up about it, but I’ll never forget it.”
Gary credits his friendship with Vigiano (who passed away in 2018 at age 79), along with many of the firefighters he met, with helping him decide to become Catholic himself in 2010. Gary said, “[Our] little church became such a positive force in our lives, and it grew into a moment in time where I secretly went through a Confirmation process and surprised my family by taking them to the church on Christmas Eve. Our priests brought me into the Church, confirmed me into the Church. And that was a big surprise to my family.”
Gary continues to live his faith and his mission of service to others through the Gary Sinise Foundation, which includes many outreach efforts, including the building of specially-adapted houses for disabled veterans. He hopes that by sharing his story in “Grateful American,” he can encourage readers to practice gratitude in their own lives as well.
Gary concludes, “If the book can inspire others to look at what they’re grateful for and to think about our country not as a place where people are divided all the time…But look at the blessings that we’ve had because of the freedoms we have in this great country. If I can inspire people to go out there and serve others, the book is going to be worth the year it took to put it all down.”
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