• Image about Gary Sinise
The 54-year-old Sinise, an Illinois native with a soft-spoken, aw-shucks demeanor, refuses such lionization and also nudges aside suggestions that he is an activist, believing -- and sincerely so -- that he’s simply doing what needs to be done to make the best of today’s harrowing global narrative. “The work that I’ve been doing on behalf of the troops and the children by offering them supplies -- that’s more of a socially-conscious-American-citizen thing than a political thing. If doing the right thing today means you’re an activist, then I guess I am one, but I’d rather be called active than an activist,” he says.

Throughout the years, many of Sinise’s family and friends have served military tours of duty, engendering in him a respect for soldiers and the service they provide. Years ago, he began speaking with veterans about their rehabilitation and redemption, and he became involved with the Disabled American Veterans organization after playing the role of the emotionally and physically wounded Lieutenant Dan Taylor in Forrest Gump. But the events that took place on September 11, 2001 -- and America’s subsequent invasion of Iraq -- were what truly galvanized Sinise. “I just needed to jump in and do something,” he says. “I was in pain, as so many of us were, and I got up on my feet.”

Sinise first volunteered at the USO office, visiting war zones around the world, meeting with soldiers, and playing with the Lt. Dan Band to adoring crowds. What most moved Sinise was the plight of the children in those devastated regions, their educations reduced to counting pebbles among the ruins. “There was a lot of tragedy and sadness, and you’ve got children and soldiers caught in the middle,” he says. “I wanted to do something that would take care of the children, these kids who have nothing, and the soldiers who are out there laying down their lives, trying to build trust and community in a foreign land. You know how the GIs in World War II handed out chocolate and pencils to the kids of Germany? I thought we could do a lot of good -- really heal a lot of broken hearts -- by doing something similar but with books and school supplies.”