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Memorial Day: Actor Gary Sinise and the LT. Dan Band perform for troops and veterans

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Every year, Memorial Day is a time for people to honor members of the U.S. military who have died while serving. For many, marking the holiday means gathering outdoors, grilling meats and vegetables. For actor Gary Sinise...

(SOUNDBITE OF BASS PLAYING)

SUMMERS: ...It means playing music.

(SOUNDBITE OF BASS PLAYING)

GARY SINISE: Gary Sinise - the Lt. Dan Band, and I play bass.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: The 13-person band was in Washington, D.C. over the weekend for a special reason - to throw a welcome home celebration for Vietnam veterans 50 years after the U.S. suspended combat operations in Vietnam.

SINISE: When they came home from war, it was a bad time in our country. They didn't get any kind of welcome home. Many of them kind of disappeared into the shadows because it was not a good time to be a Vietnam veteran. You know, I just want to do something to acknowledge that we do welcome them home. We do celebrate them. We do appreciate their service to our country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LT DAN BAND: (Singing) I was walking down the street one day.

SINISE: Back in the '80s, I was very involved with supporting various Vietnam veterans' organizations in Chicago. And, you know - and then, after playing the disabled veteran in "Forrest Gump," that kind of turned a little bit of a corner toward trying to help our wounded, but it really all just kind of catapulted after the attacks of September 11.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LT DAN BAND: (Singing) Don't you dare look back. Just keep your eyes on me. I said you're holding back. She said, shut up and dance with me.

SINISE: I volunteered to go on support trips for the USO. And I would go out just on my own and shake hands and meet with the troops and, you know, try to get around, as - you know, to the war zones and whatnot.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LT DAN BAND: (Singing) She took my arm. I don't know how it happened. We took the floor and she said...

SINISE: But on one of the early trips - I mean, it was a big trip - big entertainment tour - giant tour in June of '03. And Kid Rock was on that tour, and Lee Ann Womack was on that tour. And, gosh, and I was just, you know, Gary Sinise, Lt. Dan, actor, waving to the troops and that kind of thing. But after I did five or six of those handshake tours where I'd just go out on my own, I finally convinced the USO to let me take the musicians with me that I knew - the garage band players that I had. And so it started very grassroots back in - you know, 20 years ago, very rough. There's 13 members of the band. There's only three or four of us that were there in the beginning. And the rest of them have come aboard, you know, since then.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SINISE: Generally, for people that haven't heard the band - you know, when you tell them an actor has a band, they don't - you know, they don't kind of get too excited about that. But this is a top-notch band.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LT DAN BAND: (Singing) There's all kinds of music, everywhere you go. Some folks like it fast, and some like it slow. Some like it hot...

SINISE: We've played a lot of shows. We've played 500-something shows. And we've played in the war zones, and we've played in hospitals. And we've - oh, gosh, you know, Kuwait and Kandahar. And, I mean, we've been all over the place. And that's what the band is for. The band is - I don't play for a living. I - you know, I make my living as an actor, and I play for the mission of lifting spirits and raising people up. That's what I do with the band. So money that people contribute to the Gary Sinise Foundation allows me to do things like this today, which is provide a festival atmosphere at a military base and lift people up and raise their spirits and bring some joy and some fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LT DAN BAND: (Singing) Feeling all right, feeling all right, feeling all right.

SINISE: This is a foundation I started to give back to the men and women who protect our country and defend our cities. And, you know, we want them to know they're appreciated.

SUMMERS: That was actor Gary Sinise talking to NPR about playing music for U.S. veterans. Sinise is the co-host of the annual Memorial Day concert at the U.S. Capitol and traveling with the Lt. Dan Band across the country. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Gabriel J. Sánchez
Gabriel J. Sánchez is a producer for NPR's All Things Considered. Sánchez identifies stories, books guests, and produces what you hear on air. Sánchez also directs All Things Considered on Saturdays and Sundays.
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