by Rebecca Alwine
Military families are always appreciative of support, from anyone and everyone. But when it comes from a celebrity, it seems to make a bigger impact. For as long as we can remember, the USO has brought celebrities to troops and their families around the world. When someone we see on television and in movies comes to our town and takes the time to thank us — whether with a concert or just a handshake — it truly means a lot.
I spoke with service members and military spouses and received quite a bit of feedback regarding their favorite military-friendly celebrities. There are so many of them, and we can’t possibly name them all, but here are just a few of our favorites.
1. Gary Sinise – Probably the most popular military supporter of our day, Gary Sinise has gone above most others with his support. For nearly 40 years, Sinise has stood as an advocate of America’s service members. It began in the early 1980s with his support of Vietnam Veterans groups and the creation of Vets Night, a program offering free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, and continued through the 1990s with his work for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization, which he continues to actively support.
Probably best known to military audiences as Lt. Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump (1994), Sinise’s portrayal formed an enduring connection with servicemen and women throughout the military community. After several USO handshake tours in 2003, Sinise formed the “Lt. Dan Band” in early 2004 and began entertaining troops serving at home and abroad. The band now performs roughly 30 shows a year for military bases, charities and fundraisers supporting wounded heroes, Gold Star families, veterans and troops around the world.
Sinise also narrated Army and Army Reserve Army Strong recruitment ads as well as narrating the highly acclaimed World War II in HD (2009) on the History Channel, and the World War II documentary Missions That Changed The War (2010) on the Military Channel. Sinise was an executive producer of the Iraq War documentary Brothers at War (2009).
In recognition of his humanitarian work on behalf of our nation’s defenders, Sinise has earned many distinguished awards including the Bob Hope Award for Excellence in Entertainment from the Medal of Honor Society, the Spirit of the USO Award, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the Doughboy Award, the Sylvanus Thayer Award, and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Award from the National Defense Industrial Association. In 2008, he received the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second-highest civilian honor awarded to citizens for exemplary deeds performed in service of the nation. In 2012, Sinise was presented with the Spirit of Hope Award by the Department of Defense, was named an honorary Chief Petty Officer by the United States Navy (his father served in the Navy), and in 2013 was pinned as an honorary Marine by General James Amos, commandant of the United States Marine Corps. This year, Sinise is being honored as the 2017 recipient of the George Catlett Marshall Medal by the Council of Trustees of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) for his sustained commitment to the men and women of America’s armed forces. Sinise established the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011, which, among other things, builds custom Smart Homes for severely wounded veterans, serves hearty meals to deploying troops and hosts spirit-boosting festivals for patients, families and medical staff at military hospitals.
Army spouse Cherie Miracle says, “Gary Sinise [is my favorite] hands down! We went to a Lt. Dan Band show in Alaska and it was amazing. His love for the troops and their families is incredible!” by Rebecca Alwine Gary Sinise “His love for the troops and their family.
2. Tom Hanks — Sinise’s co-star in three movies, including Forest Gump, Tom Hanks served as an executive producer of the wildly popular History Channel miniseries Band of Brothers (2001) and The Pacific (2010), as well as an executive producer of the 2011 documentary He Has Seen War, which chronicles the surviving members of Easy Company and the 1st Marine Division.
Hanks has served as the national spokesman for the World War II Memorial Campaign and was honored with the American Spirit Award by The National World War II Museum for his work to honor and bring the stories of WWII veterans to a new audience. He also currently serves as chair of the Hidden Heroes Campaign, which supports military caregivers as part of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.
In 2006, Hanks was named an honorary member of the U.S. Army’s Ranger Hall of Fame for his “accurate portrayal of a World War II Army Ranger company commander” in the movie Saving Private Ryan (1998) and for his “continued commitment to honoring those who served in the war.” He was the first actor to receive such an honor.
“I’ve covered some of this turf in my fake life as an actor who puts on other people’s clothes, and the emotional impact of a number of those jobs, it’s never left,” Hanks, said on The Today Show last year when talking about his new role with Hidden Heroes. “It comes down to a chance to serve and I think help out in a very pragmatic and understandable way.”
3. Adam Driver – As a Marine, Driver served in a weapons company and later founded the Arts in the Armed Forces. AITAF strives to not only entertain, but to use the experience to open up communication between military and civilians, and even between service members and their families. Driver is best known for his roles as Adam Sackler in the HBO series Girls and the latest Star Wars movies as Ben Solo/Kylo Ren.
Driver joined the Marines after Sept. 11, 2001. Less than three years later, he was forced out with a medical discharge just before his unit deployed overseas, something he says has bothered him ever since. But Driver re-channeled his intensity into his chosen civilian career — acting. He says the military helped prepare him for Hollywood. “Something I learned in the Marine Corps that I’ve applied to acting is, one, taking direction,” he says, “and then working with a group of people to accomplish a mission and knowing your role within that team.”
Driver re-channeled his intensity into his chosen civilian career — acting.
Showing support for the military isn’t something new for celebrities. Dating back to 1941, celebrities have been visiting troops throughout each and every conflict and mission around the world. While these two celebrities have passed on, we would be remiss to not mention them in our favorites list.
Bob Hope — When you think of the USO, you automatically think of Bob Hope. His love for the troops and their families started in 1941 and continued for decades. Over the course of 50 years, he spent 48 Christmases overseas, and he was awarded as the first and only honorary veteran for his lifetime of support.
Among the things that make military families happy is when others show support for their service member. The love that these celebrities have shown for the military, their families, and their country warms our hearts.
Robin Williams — Robin Williams was always a favorite of the troops. Remember that fantastic video of him performing when Retreat played? He was in awe of how the entire audience turned their backs on him and rendered salute to the flag. He had true respect and admiration for the troops. He spent Christmas of 2010 visiting troops at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, brightening up their holiday, when many were far away from family.