A Journey from Self to Service
Gary Sinise with Marcus Brotherton
Nelson Books, Nashville, Tennessee, 2019, 272 pages
Book Review published on: April 26, 2019
Grateful American tells the story of how Gary Sinise became a dedicated advocate for military service members and their families, both active duty and veterans, as well as first responders—law enforcement and firefighters. The book is an autobiography and a journal of reflection by the author. He provides a very engaging and readable account of his journey to realizing his calling to serve as a grateful American.
Sinise uses many touchpoints in his life to weave his story, starting with his great-grandparents immigration from Italy in 1891 to Chicago, his grandfather’s service in the U.S. Army during World War I, and his Uncle Jack’s service in World War II as a U.S. Navy B-17 navigator. His father, Robert Sinise, also served in the U.S. Navy from 1951 to 1955 as a photographer/film developer at the Naval Support facility in Anacostia, Washington, D.C. Sinise was born in 1955 while his father was still in the Navy and refers to himself as being a “Navy brat—just barely.” Each of his reflections of his family members’ military service speaks to his ever-increasing understanding of the cost of freedom in our country and to those who selflessly protect that freedom.
Grateful American includes how Sinise became interested in acting during high school in the suburbs of Chicago and how a drama teacher opened his eyes to a world of opportunity. He admits he was not a great student—he had trouble reading. He played sports in high school but got hurt, so music in a rock band became his main interest. Then he got his first acting role in the West Side Story. He writes, “I had been baptized. My life of purpose had begun.”
Interestingly, his movie career further inspired him to answer the call to serve, particularly Forest Gump. In making Forrest Gump in 1993-1994, he discovered what it must be like for many Vietnam veterans, and it led him to volunteer with the Disabled American Veterans. It also eventually led him to form the Lt. Dan Band.
The two major events that greatly shaped Sinise’s view on “his calling to act” were the Vietnam War and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. Sinise’s reflection of the Vietnam War started with his relatives who served in that war, and how later, when he met with veteran organizations, he realized they were never welcomed home; they were treated like the enemy, not heroes. Sinise’s 9/11 reflection is even more visceral as he recalls the horrors our nation endured that September day. He states, “September 11 broke my heart and changed me forever.”
In each of the chapters, Sinise focuses on his personal and professional development along life’s journey and his continued reflection on the “calling to serve” beyond himself, for the greater good of our country. He includes a section of pictures in the book, tying his reflections to personal photos. There is also a “Called to Action” section that lists the organizations and efforts he supported over the years, to include the musicians in the Lt. Dan Band. It is humbling to read how one American citizen has done so much to serve those protecting our way of life.
This is a very inspiring read for any American, those who are already patriotic and grateful as well as those who are confused by or indifferent to the positive focus on military and first responders’ service to our country. This book highlights the importance of the civil-military connection as a two-way equation. The average American civilian may take for granted the freedom and security we enjoy, but there is a real cost—it is the military and first responders who pay the greatest price, with their lives and health. If only all Americans were as grateful.
Grateful American is written for a general readership, including those interested in Sinise’s life as a celebrity, but especially for those who appreciate his many service projects over the past few decades, including the Gary Sinise Foundation.
Book Review written by: Col. Susan M. Rocha, U.S. Army, Retired, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama