Actor Gary Sinise, whose devotion to America’s veterans and their families has taken on near-legendary status, has really topped himself this time; his Snowball Express Program, part of his Gary Sinise Foundation, treated almost 2,000 children of Gold Star families to a trip to Disney World just two weeks before Christmas. On Monday, Sinise tweeted, “Over 1000 Gold Star Children travel w/ surviving parent, 1,750 in all, via @americanair to Disney World today as part of our @GarySiniseFound Snowball Express program. This charter left LAX this morning. I’ll join up in a few days. Have fun kids! We love you!”
The Snowball Express Program says on its website: “We’re serving the children of fallen military heroes. In 2017, Snowball Express became an official Gary Sinise Foundation program. We are committed to maintaining the wonderful traditions while finding new and exciting ways to serve our families of the fallen."
The site notes, “No matter where these families are in the grieving process, we hope to inspire them to believe anything is possible. By providing guilt-free fun and beneficial resources in a stress-free environment, we’re creating a community to learn, grow, and make lasting memories with new friends.” It also explains just why the program was taking the kids at this time of year:
The holidays can be especially challenging for grieving families. Each December, we host a five-day experience for 1,750+ children of the fallen and their surviving parent or guardian. As a therapeutic retreat with a blend of fun and inspiring programs, these families can lean on their peers for support. And this year we’re bringing Snowball Express to Walt Disney World® Resort!
Sinise’s devotion to the troops dates back almost forty years. Sinise co-founded the Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago in 1974; in the early 1980’s he started supporting Vietnam Veterans groups and created Vets Night, a program offering free dinners and performances to veterans at the Steppenwolf Theatre. In the 1990’s, he continued by working on behalf of the Disabled American Veterans organization (which he still does.) He made overseas USO handshake tours in 2003, then formed the “Lt. Dan Band” in early 2004 and began entertaining troops serving at home and abroad; the band gives roughly 30 shows a year for military bases, charities and fundraisers supporting wounded heroes, Gold Star families, and other troops. Interviewed by CBS News, he said in 2012:
You need community support if you're going to make it and that's why coming into these towns around the country and playing these concerts to make sure that the town and the community understands what we're dealing with here. Somebody you see on television you know every week has come to your small community because it's important to support this wounded warrior who lives among you.
According to the Gary Sinise Foundation, the foundation has served over 160,000 meals to veterans around the country and adapted 70 “smart homes” for severely wounded veterans. Sinise serves as the national spokesperson for the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial.
Among the numerous expressions of gratitude that came Sinise's way, here are just a couple: