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Band of Brothers

One-time Ravinia groundskeeper Gary Sinise supports U.S. troops onstage—and off.

Gary Sinise

Shortly after actor-director Gary Sinise graduated from Highland Park High School in 1974, he co-founded Chicago’s iconic Steppenwolf Theatre Company, putting on plays at no charge with fellow actors Jeff Perry and Terry Kinney at the North Shore Unitarian Church on Half Day Road in Deerfield. It was the beginning of a highly successful and diverse career: He went on to direct and star in Steppenwolf productions like Sam Shepard’s True West, received an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Lt. Dan Taylor in the highly acclaimed movie Forrest Gump, and just wrapped his ninth season as detective Mac Taylor on CSI: NY.

But when he’s not on stage or set, this Emmy and Golden Globe winner has been most passionate about advocating for U.S. veterans returning home after service. Through the Gary Sinise Foundation (garysinisefoundation.org), he boosts morale and raises funds by performing about 50 shows each year around the world, including some tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the Lt. Dan Band. “We craft a high-energy show and play for all ages—kids, troops, families,” says Sinise. “A lot of the band members live and work in Chicago as musicians and singers.”

Think of Sinise as the current-day Bob Hope, who took his United Service Organization (USO) overseas beginning in WWII to perform for troops. This year—for the first time—the Lt. Dan Band performs at the Ravinia Festival, Sinise’s old stomping grounds.

“It’s very special to come back and play at a place I went to as a kid and worked at for one summer in 1976,” says Sinise. “I was a groundskeeper, cutting the grass, raking the leaves, sweeping the stage—now I’m going to play there. I wasn’t such a great groundskeeper,” he laughs, “the head of the crew was always mad at me.”

On a more serious note, Sinise says, “We had a shameful thing happen when our Vietnam veterans returned home. I never want veterans to be treated that way again. If you serve your country,  there should be a way for you to get help when you need it.”

The Foundation’s Building for America’s Bravest initiative builds smart homes (specifically designed with fully automated amenities) for severely wounded veterans who return from war with multiple or debilitating injuries and special needs.

“I want these warriors to have a good life when they come home,” says Sinise.

North Shore Hots
Ravinia, the Nite ‘N Gale in Highwood, Jim Lovell’s restaurant in Lake Forest, playing with the Lt. Dan Band at Great Lakes Navel Base in North Chicago

North Shore Nots
Not taking care of our veterans