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Happy Veterans Day: Buy coffee for a soldier (Gary Sinise does)

November 11, 2011 | 10:20 am

Gary_SiniseActor Gary Sinise is easily recognizable for his role as Det. Mac Taylor on "CSI:NY" as well as for his Oscar-nominated performance as Lt. Dan in "Forrest Gump." But Veterans Day provides a chance to look at another, arguably more important, role that he plays -- as advocate for U.S. military men and women.

In addition to having received an Emmy ("George Wallace") and a Golden Globe ("Truman"), Sinise is the recipient of the 2008 Presidential Citizens Medal -- one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a civilian, second only to the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Through his Gary Sinise Foundation, he has helped raise millions for organizations and causes dedicated to serving U.S. military men and women and their families.

He's especially attuned to the difficulties facing military men and women injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is currently working to fund custom-built homes for several quadruple amputees and triple amputees making the transition back to civilian life.

If you happen to be in Las Vegas on Saturday, you might want to catch Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band performing as part of the fundraising "Salute to the Troops" at Mandalay Bay Casino & Resort.

We asked Sinise how he'd like to see Americans commemorate this Veterans Day and, for that matter, how people generally can pay proper respect to the troops. He said it's as easy as stopping the next military man or woman and shaking his or her hand in thanks. Or buying that person a cup of coffee or a meal. Or even mowing the front lawn or running the occasional errand for a military family with a mother or father stationed overseas. Here's what he said:

"To me, honoring our veterans each and every day is important -- not just on Veterans Day -- because they are our freedom providers and defenders. So celebrating each and every day as Veterans Day is something I try to encourage in my travels."

What would you like to see this Veterans Day?

What would be fantastic to see, all across this nation, is businesses and restaurants and car repair shops, wherever, just doing a little something to make sure veterans are treated to something special that would show them that their service is appreciated. Golden Corral restaurants does this Military Appreciation Monday. They give free meals to any veterans that come in. Wouldn't it be great if all across this nation our veterans were celebrated and honored and we gave something back to them for having given us so much?

What other ways can people help?

There are so many ways that you can volunteer. There are wounded warriors in small towns all across this country, and disabled veterans going back to World War II and up to the present day. They could use help. Look within your local community and find a Gold Star family [a family whose immediate relative died in service] or a Blue Star family [a family with a loved one on active duty] or a wounded warrior and just befriend them and find out what they need and what you can do. (Sinise's website includes information on military charities he says he has personally vetted and endorses.)

I understand you have a particular way of surprising military men and women out at a restaurant or coffee shop.

That meal, whatever it is, is always on me. I just pick up the tab for those soldiers for that meal. I'm going to make sure I surprise them. It takes a little cash, but I like to do that for them.

But so many people are feeling the economic pinch these days.

But you don't even have to do that [spring for the meal]. How about just going up to them and saying 'Thank you' and patting them on the back when you see them and say 'You mean something to me. The way you are serving... I don't take that for granted.' Can you imagine what that means to a young soldier? All of a sudden that person is going to think a little bit differently about what they do for this country. That is all it takes.

Do you think we take our freedom, and our soldiers' sacrifices for granted?

Absolutely. We have many, many people who have sacrificed in a foreign land and we absolutely take it for granted. We've got the lattes flowing, the gas is flowing, the economy is not that good but we still get to go to the movies and we have access to all kinds of things. That's all provided for us because we have the security provided by these service members.

You have several veterans on both sides of your family, and your wife's family. Does that inspire you to do what you do?

 Partly, yes. I saw it firsthand, the sacrifices that they make. And I looked for a way that I could contribute using my own skills.... I know all too well what some of our soldiers went through when they were coming home [after the Vietnam War]. It was hard on them and it was bad for our country and I just said I wasn't going to let that happen. I was going to do what I could to let them know how much I appreciated it.... It's a good feeling that there's something I can do. Most of our citizens don't want to do that kind of thing [serve in the military, or in law enforcement or emergency services.] We're lucky that we have people who are willing to do it. We owe it to them. I owe it to them.

RELATED:

Veterans Day: What you need to know

Navy veteran of World War II has record set straight

Marines honor African Americans who enlisted during segregation

-- Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo credit: Gary Sinise 

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