Lt. Dan Band rocks NAS Whidbey

Before Capt. Geoffrey Moore welcomed a band playing in his backyard recently, he admitted he’d never heard their music.

Still, the leader of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island knew his base had been abuzz about the July 14 USO show.

So he didn’t hold back in his introduction.

“Welcome the military’s most popular band, Lt. Dan Band, featuring Chief Petty Officer Gary Sinise,” Moore told an enthusiastic crowd of 3,000 active and retired veterans and their families who witnessed the band’s first appearance on Whidbey Island.

Sinise, an actor, director, producer and musician who started his own foundation devoted to veterans, had just been given a hat by Lt. David Machinporrato with the words “Lt. Dan” on the back.

He’s best known for the role of Lt. Dan Taylor in the 1994 major motion picture “Forrest Gump,” for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. For nine seasons, Sinise also played Detective Mac Taylor on the television series, C.S.I.: New York.

Since 2003, Sinise, a longtime bass guitar player, has taken center stage as USO’s main entertainer, reminding some in the crowd of Bob Hope’s entertaining military tours.

“I saw Bob Hope when he came to Midway Island, I think it was 1965,” recalled Patti Ruple, 84, who was living on the Navy base with her husband. “We had to stand in front of the hangars and we got up at 3 in the morning. They flew into refuel and put on a show.”

Ruple attended the Lt. Dan Band concert with her friend, Cat Branscum, who remarked Sinise probably “didn’t travel with pin-ups like Bob Hope did.”

But Sinise does travel with a very large band, a 12-piece ensemble that jammed for two hours, cranking out well-known songs from 1940s swoon tunes to today’s top 40.

The concert took place on the lawn outside the NAS fitness center. It resembled a large picnic with a food stand, beer garden and USO support vehicle. Families spread out on blankets and lawn chairs, enjoying a rare warm Northwestern summer night.

The Lt. Dan Band has performed more than 375 concerts around the world, on bases, on ships, in military hospitals and in the hometowns of disabled vets, according to its website.

“He’s probably got more time in Iraq and Afghanistan than a lot of us,” Moore remarked before the show. “I think many of the people coming to see him perform tonight are here to thank him for what he does.”

Jess Hickman, retired and now a base civilian employee, said he saw Sinise during a deployment and in Bremerton.

“He goes out of his way to play for active and retired military,” said Hickman, attending with his wife and two daughters. “He’s taken over for Bob Hope. He always seems to be the one who shows up.”

This year, Sinise earned top awards for his acting talent and humanitarian efforts. In April, he received his own star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, and in October, he’ll receive the Army’s top award.

The Council of Trustees of the Association of the United States Army named Sinise as 2017 recipient of the George Catlett Marshall Medal, given for sustained commitment to the men and women of America’s armed forces.

The concert was presented by both USO (United Service Organizations formed in 1941) and Gary Sinise Foundation, which just celebrated its sixth anniversary. The following night, the Lt. Dan Band played at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Sinise’s non-profit has numerous programs: R.I.S.E. (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) that remodels homes and provides mobility devices for disabled vets; Invincible Spirit Festivals that are day-long concerts and fairs on the grounds of military hospitals; First Responders Outreach, which provides equipment and training to police, firefighters and EMTs; and Soaring Valor program that brings World War II veterans to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans and sponsors videotaping their firsthand accounts of war.

At a press conference, Sinise recounted that his initial efforts to join forces with the USO didn’t go so smoothly. Multiple offers triggered no response.

“After the Sept. 11 attacks, I called up the USO and said, ‘I’m Gary Sinise. I’d like to do a show.’ Then I sent another message, saying I really wanted to go on a USO tour. Finally I left a message, saying, ‘I played Lt. Dan’ and then they called back.”

The character of Lt. Dan Taylor, who loses his legs in combat, resonates with many vets, Sinise says, because he overcomes anger, depression, drinking and drugs and learns to live again.

“He’s standing up at the end of the movie. That’s a positive story for a lot of our wounded veterans.”

While the 2001 terror attacks triggered the 62-year-old actor’s desire to do more for the troops, he’s also from a military family. He described witnessing how badly soldiers were treated returning from Vietnam, something his brothers-in-law experienced firsthand.

Never again should that happen, Sinise said.

“It is a dangerous world and we’re going to have men and women deployed constantly somewhere and they need to know that we care about them. They are our freedom providers.”

Sinise said he’s often asked by others how they can show support for the military.

“I have a public platform, but you don’t have to be a celebrity. Just look in your neighborhood. Start there.

“Maybe someone you know has been struggling, struggling in silence and they don’t want to reach out. Reach out to them.”

Actor, musician and USO entertainer Gary Sinise performs a collection of hits with his Lt. Dan Band. Patricia Guthrie photo

Actor, musician and USO entertainer Gary Sinise performs a collection of hits with his Lt. Dan Band. Patricia Guthrie photo