Gary Sinise joins WTOP ahead of National Memorial Day Concert on 30th anniversary of ‘Forrest Gump’

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the National Memorial Day Concert with Gary Sinise (Part 1)

The National Memorial Day Concert returns to the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol on Sunday.

In this May, 2008 file photo provided by the Department of Defense, actor and musician Gary Sinise performs with his "Lt. Dan Band" during the "America Supports You" concert at the Pentagon in Washington. Sinise and his band play in Charleston, S.C., on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, as part of the annual Lt. Dan Weekend. The concert and weekend events are being held in Charleston this year for the first time after being held in nearby Beaufort, S.C., during previous years. (AP Photo/Department of Defense, Jerry Morrison, File)(AP/Tech Sgt Jerry Morrison)

Actor Gary Sinise will once again co-host with Joe Mantegna as the telecast airs live on PBS.

“I started in 2005,” Sinise told WTOP. “Joe started in 2002 and called to ask if I would be interested in coming to do a segment on the 2005 show and bringing my band to play. They were going to highlight the USO, and I was doing a lot of USO shows, so they asked me to come. … They asked me to not only play but narrate a few other segments, so I did that. Then they asked me to come back the following year and co-host — and I’ve been doing that since 2006.”

This year’s lineup includes Bryan Cranston, Cynthia Erivo, Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts, Jena Malone, BD Wong, Patina Miller, Ruthie Ann Miles and Mary McCormack. It also includes Jamey Johnson, whose hit country song “In Color” is perfect for Memorial Day, describing black-and-white photographs of serving in World War II:

“If it looks like we were scared to death, like a couple of kids just tryna save each other, you should’ve seen it in color.”

“I hope he’s doing that one,” Sinise said. “It’s a great, great, great, song.”

This year also marks the 30th anniversary of Sinise’s Oscar-nominated role as double-amputee Vietnam War veteran Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump” (1994), which not only was the year’s No. 2 grossing blockbuster but also won six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director (Robert Zemeckis) and Best Actor (Tom Hanks).

“It was all magic tricks done in the computer except for when I was actually sitting in the wheelchair,” Sinise said. “We had a specially-designed wheelchair that had a little sunken area where I could bend my legs … but the other times when I’m falling out of the wheelchair, get lifted up out of the hospital bed or jump off the boat and swim out, that was all done with the computer. It wasn’t green screen, but I had blue-screen socks … then in post production they would go in and remove all that blue color … and then paint in the [floor and furniture].”

He says “Forrest Gump” contrasts with other war masterpieces of his generation like “The Deer Hunter” (1978), “Apocalypse Now” (1979), “Platoon” (1986) and “Full Metal Jacket” (1987) because it was the first to actually provide hope for wounded veterans rather than leaving them wallowing in tragic anguish and depression.

“The story of Lt. Dan resonates with so many of our veterans, of course with our wounded veterans, because it is a very positive story,” Sinise said. “He wrestles with his demons and he overcomes and he’s standing up again at the end of the movie. That’s the story we want for everybody who’s facing a challenge because of military service. We want them to be OK and moving on with their lives — and that’s the power of the Lt. Dan story.”

Indeed, his final scene shows him walking on “magic legs” at Forrest and Jenny’s wedding, tapping his titanium-alloy rods as “the stuff they use on the space shuttle,” foreshadowing his reunion with Hanks in “Apollo 13” (1995).

“He may have known he was going to go off and do that movie next, but I didn’t until a while later when all of a sudden I had the opportunity to audition for it,” Sinise said.

Of all of his great roles, from “Of Mice and Men” to “The Green Mile” to “CSI: NY,” none are as important as his annual role at the National Memorial Day Concert. In fact, his Lt. Dan Band just performed for wounded vets on Thursday night at Fort Belvoir in Virginia as part of the Invincible Spirit Festival for the Gary Sinise Foundation.

“It’s a beautiful way to remember,” Sinise said. “That’s what Memorial Day is about: remembrance. We remember our fallen, we remember the sacrifices that have been made to keep us free, we remember those that are buried in military cemeteries all across the country and around the world, we remember the families who have lost those loved ones and we honor them. It’s our national tribute to those who defend us.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the National Memorial Day Concert with Gary Sinise (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation on the podcast below:

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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