Friday, January 25, 2019

"Grateful American" by Gary Sinise

I'm fumbling around for words to describe or explain or praise this book.  I want to do all three, but it's such a thoroughly good book -- and I enjoyed it so much -- that it's hard for me to write about it without descending into what will sound like sentimental hyperbole.

But I'll try.

I became a fan of Gary Sinise in 1995, when my parents took my brother and I to see Apollo 13 in the theater.  He played astronaut Ken Mattingly, and my brother and I glommed onto him as someone we just wanted to protect and defend, of that makes any sense at all.  Mattingly doesn't get to go on the mission to the moon like he was supposed to, which was a huge disappointment at first, but turned out to be a godsend, as he was on the ground to help figure out ways to get his crewmates back.  Sinise plays Mattingly with a beautifully grounded, sensible, can-do attitude that endeared the character to us from our very first viewing (an emotional event I detailed here in my review of the film).

Later on, I saw Forrest Gump (1994) and The Quick and the Dead (1995) on VHS, and they cemented Sinise in my mind as a Good Guy.  Something about him came across as genuinely upright, more than just a role or behavior he was playing at.  As if he was a nice guy in real life, the sort who would be kind and helpful and, well... an all-around Good Guy.  I've seen him in other roles over the years, and he's long been one of those actors whose presence I can count on to elevate whatever material he's working with.  I can count on him to be interesting and watchable, you might say.

I learned a few years ago of Sinise's work with the Lt. Dan Band, entertaining American troops at home and abroad, working with the USO, and raising money to benefit wounded veterans.  All of which added to my idea of him being a Good Guy.  So I joined the launch team for his memoir and waited with a fair measure of anticipation to receive my advance copy, and I expected to enjoy the book. 

What I didn't expect from this book was liking it so much that I carried it around with me for several days so I could read it while my kids were at swimming lessons and various other appointments.  I didn't expect it to make me laugh AND cry, sometimes within the same page.  I didn't expect it to touch my heart.

In simple, direct, honest words, Gary Sinise lays out his life story.  How he grew up in Chicago, a wild, rudderless teen who found direction and purpose in high school theater classes.  How he and a bunch of friends started the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, now one of the most-respected theatre groups in the country, but originally a bunch of actor pals practicing their craft in a basement.  How he dabbled in alcohol and drugs in the '70s, and drifted through his personal life even while his professional life gained momentum.  And how he eventually found meaning by coming to faith in God and joining the Catholic church, and by finding ways to aid and support military personnel, first-responders, and their families.

Intertwined throughout the book is Sinise's lifelong respect for those who put their lives on the line to defend others.  The military, police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel are often taken for granted in the United States, and Sinise insists we need to change that.  He's made it his mission to let them hear his gratitude loud and clear, to know that they are not forgotten or taken for granted.

I'm not in the military, nor is my husband.  But I have an uncle who served in Vietnam, two cousins who were/are in the Air Force, and some great uncles who served in WWII (one even hit Omaha Beach during the D-DAY invasion).  I also have friends in the military, and many members of our congregation are active duty or retired military.  And I've realized that I almost never thank them for their courage and sacrifices and willingness to preserve our freedom.  I'm not sure yet how I can do that, but thanks to this book, I'm starting to look for ways.  I used to send care packages to some friends and relatives when they were deployed overseas, but no one I know personally is deployed right now.  Still, even if it's sending an encouraging note to a friend whose husband is deployed, or inviting another friend and her kids over for a meal when her husband is away at training, I'm sure that I, like Gary Sinise, can "do a little more" (p. 260).

(From my Instagram account)

Particularly Good Bits:

...when joy connects to mission, a life's purpose begins to take shape (p. 187).

Freedom is not something all human beings simply get to have and enjoy.  A price must be paid, and I am grateful to those who are willing to pay that price, sometimes the ultimate price.  Because of these special Americans, I have been able to live out my dreams, succeed at my chosen career, and turn that success into something positive for others (p. 273).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It:  PG.  This is one of the cleanest memoirs I've ever read.  Drugs and alcohol make appearances, and dealing with an alcoholic in the family takes center stage for a time.  There is one curse word. 


  1. I don't know anything at all about this actor, but I feel like I would still enjoy this book. It sounds pretty great.

    1. Jessica, I think you would clasp this book to you and love it forever. It's very, very real, and very inspiring.

  2. He is a great guy. I remember his patriotic presence post 9-11. He did a lot of interviews, encouraging and supporting our troops. I'm not surprised this is a respectable biography. Good for him.

    1. Ruth, I totally recommend this book. He's signing copies near here in a few weeks, and I'm trying to figure out a way to go.

  3. I'll have to read it. Nice review.


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