Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Service by Gary Sinise

When joy connects to mission, a life’s purpose begins to take shape.”

About the Book

As a kid in suburban Chicago, Gary Sinise was more interested in sports and rock ‘n’ roll than reading or schoolwork. But when he impulsively auditioned for a school production of West Side Story, he found his purpose–or so it seemed.

Within a few years Gary and a handful of friends created what became one of the most exciting and important new theater companies in America. From its humble beginnings in a suburban Chicago church basement and eventual move into the city, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company launched a series of groundbreaking productions, igniting Gary’s career along with those of John Malkovich, Joan Allen, Gary Cole, Laurie Metcalf, Jeff Perry, John Mahoney, and others. Television and film came calling soon after, and Gary starred in Of Mice and Men (which he also directed) and The Stand before taking the role that would change his life in unforeseeable ways: Lieutenant Dan in the Academy Award–winning Forrest Gump.

The military community’s embrace of the character of the disabled veteran was matched only by the depth of Gary’s realization that America’s defenders had not received all the honor, respect, and gratitude their sacrifices deserve. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, this became Gary’s mission. While starring in hits like Apollo 13,  RansomTrumanGeorge WallaceCSI:NY, and Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, Gary has worked tirelessly on behalf of those who serve this country, entertaining more than a half million troops around the world playing bass guitar with his Lt. Dan Band, raising funds on behalf of veterans, and eventually founding the Gary Sinise Foundation with a mission to serve and honor America’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need.

Grateful American is the moving, entertaining, profoundly gripping story of how one man found his calling: to see that those who defend this country and its freedoms are never forgotten.

My Thoughts

I’d watched “Forrest Gump” so knew about the character Lieutenant Dan, but I didn’t know anything about Gary Sinise or follow his acting career. I don’t watch TV so even didn’t know about his CSI success.

What I was impressed with was his patriotism, especially the gripping approaches he has employed to serve our military veterans.

Sinise was a drug user as a kid, encouraged by a teacher to try acting. The book labors through the ups and downs of getting started in theater, his relationship with the woman who eventually became his wife, even playing and writing music. There are veterans in his own family, but especially in his wife’s. They are the ones who planted the seeds that grew into his life’s mission.

The sections about “Gump” are fascinating. Sinise rolled with the reality that Lieutenant Dan was famous than he was. That opened doors that he could not have as just an actor and eventually led to the Gary Sinise Foundation.

The entire family struggled with his wife’s alcoholism, which he doesn’t gloss over. He says that “a healing power exists within service work.” I think he is more surprised about the mission he was called to than anyone. A wonderful memoir.

Grateful American was written with author Marcus Brotherton.



  1. Through my teaching, I have probably watched the film version of ‘Of Mice and Men’ well more than a dozen times. Gary Sinise’s character has me sobbnig every time. Thank you for alerting us to this book.

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