by Dot Cannon
Suspense was building, at Pasadena’s Tournament House on Monday morning.
At 9:30, Tournament of Roses® President Lance Tibbet would announce the Grand Marshal for the 2018 Rose Parade®. His selection would be someone who embodied the 129th Rose Parade® theme, “Making a Difference”.
Gathered members of the media had guesses. Meanwhile, Tournament of Roses® was having fun providing visual and audio clues.
Talented trio the San Andreas Sisters looked sharp in their 1940s military uniforms.
At 9:00,the Fabus4 band swung into a spirited instrumental rendition of “In the Mood”.
And, the San Andreas Sisters with the Fabus4 would continue with vocal selections like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and “My Dear Mr. Shane”.
At 9:30, President Tibbet emerged from Tournament House. The time had come for the announcement!
“Born in Blue Island, Illinois, our Grand Marshal attended Highland Park High School, in Highland Park, Illinois,” President Tibbet began.
“And, upon graduating at eighteen years old, he co-founded a famous, and highly influential, theatre company which for over forty years has been a training ground for a multitude of talented actors, writers and directors.”
“Before I list some of (our Grand Marshal’s extensive acting credits), which may give away the surprise just a little bit too soon, I’d like to skip ahead to he remarkable…altruistic efforts that make this Grand Marshal someone special, and truly unique.
A litany of honors
“Our Grand Marshal supports many charitable organizations, including serving on the President’s Advisory Group for the Medal of Honor Foundation, ” President Tibbet continued.
“And on the advisory council of (national nonprofit organization) Hope for Warriors, (which serves) combat-wounded veterans and their families.
“In 2012, this person was made an honorary Chief Petty Officer by the U.S. Navy,” President Tibbet said, “and in 2013, was pinned an honorary Marine by the Commandant of the Marine Corps.”
“In 2011, our Grand Marshal founded a charity which bears his–or her–name,” he said playfully, as the audience laughed. “And (this organization) honors America’s defenders, veterans, first responders, their families and those in need through its various programs.”
“Just two weeks ago, the Association of the United States Army presented their highest award for service to the nation to our Grand Marshal,” President Tibbet said. “The 2017 George C. Marshall Medal, which is awarded annually for selfless service to the United States of America.”
After telling the audience that the 2018 Grand Marshal performed on USO tours around the world with “a band that shares the name of one of this person’s most famous movie roles”, President Tibbet shared his–or her–many honors and awards in the acting profession. By the end of those, though, the pronoun had become “he”.
“It’s no surprise that, earlier this year, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame,” President Tibbet said.
“Ladies and gentlemen…please welcome one of the stars of Forrest Gump, co-founder and bass guitar player for the Lieutenant Dan Band, husband, father, humanitarian…the Grand Marshal for the 2018 Rose Parade®…Mr. Gary Sinise.”
Audience members rose to their feet, applauding.
“An absolute honor and thrill to be the 2018 Grand Marshal for the Rose Parade®,” Sinise said from the lectern.
“I actually lived in Pasadena at the time we had made Forrest Gump,” he continued, before sharing some stories about going from unknown actor to household name.
Memories and laughter
“I remember, the street I lived on had a speed bump outside. And one morning, I walked outside…and somebody had painted over the “B” and made it a “G”. And it was “Gump”, out in front of my house.
“And two days later, I remember answering the door, and a (Pasadena Police) officer was there. They said, ‘well, sir, we’ve had some calls about break-ins in the neighborhood, and we wanted to check with you to see if…you noticed anything suspicious…And I said, ‘well, no, everything’s fine.
“And from behind his back, he pulled out a script, and said, ‘I happen to be a writer, too, and–”
The audience roared.
…”So, we moved to Malibu after that,” Sinise continued. “But, that year, 1995, we went to the Rose Parade®. My wife and my kids, they were very young at the time.
“Growing up in Chicago, I remember watching the Rose Parade®. January first in Chicago, as you can imagine, is very, very cold and watching that parade, I was very jealous (of)all the folks who lived here in California…and now here I am, all those years later, the Grand Marshal of the 2018 Rose Parade®”
Sinise said he was looking forward to all the activities surrounding the 2018 Rose Parade®–and to once again bringing his family to the parade with him.
“My kids are grown up, and just five months ago we had our first grandchild. So she’ll be coming to the Rose Parade®,” he said.
“I feel blessed that I’ve been able to take this success that I’ve had, in the movie and television business, and to do something positive with it, to make a difference in the lives of our veterans, our active-duty service members, our Gold Star families, way too many (of them), way too many wounded.
“So if by shining a little spotlight on me, on January first…to help me make a difference in their lives, I am very, very grateful.”
Serving, caring–and getting others involved
Sinise’s commitment to working for veteran began in the 1980s,according to a press release provided by Tournament of Roses® . At that time, he co-founded a “Vets Night” program in the Chicago area, where veterans received a free dinner and performance for plays produced at the Steppenwolf Theatre. Nearly forty years later, that program is still going on.
Then, after Forrest Gump’s release in 1994, The Disabled American Veterans organization presented him with their National Commanders award for his portrayal of double amputee Lieutenant Dan Taylor.
Sinise began using his new fame as “Lieutenant Dan” to serve the nation, through volunteer work with the USO. The band to which President Tibbet had alluded is the Gary Sinese and Lieutenant Dan Band, which has entertained troops worldwide.
And the organization President Tibbet mentioned is the Gary Sinise Foundation. which serves veterans, first responders, service members and their families in time of need.
The audience was on its feet for a second ovation as Sinise and President Tibbet exchanged a hug.
Just before he left, a reporter asked Sinise about ways to inspire the younger generation, to make a difference.
“I just got back from a trip down to the National World War II Museum, in New Orleans,” he replied. “And I have a program in my foundation called ‘Soaring Valor’. And what Soaring Valor does, we take World War II veterans to this museum…and we record them, (preserving) their oral histories on video.
“On some of our trips, we include high-school students. And we pair up high-school students, each one with a World War II veteran.
“So you have a 16-year-old traveling with a 93-year-old, learning about what happened to the world during that terrible conflict, all those years ago. It’s an education that the students will never ever forget…and those students were inspired. They see service in a way that they never thought about before. They understand what happened…back in the 1930s and ’40s and how it applies to them today.
“Because we all live differently because of what happened back then, and the fact that freedom won.
“So giving these students an education they will never forget…is something I believe in wholeheartedly. I want people to know the cost of freedom, what it takes to preserve it, and I want them to think about the men and women who do that for us.”