Gary Sinise Talks Bringing Thousands of Gold Star Family Members to Disney World For Snowball Express
"They’re all dealing with the grief and the loss of a loved one who has died in military service and all these kids are going through the same thing," the actor said. "So the power of them in the same place at the same time was very healing."
Gary Sinise is best known for his role as Lt. Dan in 1994’s Forrest Gump, but he’s dedicated his life to volunteering and advocating for U.S. veterans, and honoring gold star families with the Gary Sinise Foundation Snowball Express Program.
This year, the program brought thousands of children of fallen heroes to Disney World to help create happy memories, as well as do "a lot of healing" during the holiday season.
"They’re dealing with the grief and the loss of a loved one, a mom or a dad who has died in military service, and all these kids are going through the same thing, so the power of all of them in the same place at the same time, many of them — hundreds of them — was very healing," Sinise told The Hollywood Reporter.
This year, 1,722 gold star family members took part in Snowball Express, with the help of American Airlines providing travel to each one of them.
"You cannot underestimate the power of bringing all these kids together in a happy environment because we’re trying to bring joy to them right before the holidays, which is a difficult time for a child who’s lost a parent, so bringing all these kids together at the happiest place on earth was very, very special," he said.
While the program helps bring a smile to those faces who have lost a loved one, there is also support to help heal during a difficult time.
"We have counseling, we have all kinds of communal activities that focus on the healing aspect of a gold star family member who’s grieving, but we also want to provide hope, happiness and joy."
For Sinise, who has been involved with the Snowball Express since 2007 and volunteers his band, The Lt. Dan Band, to perform every year, the event is both "heartwarming" and "heartbreaking."
"It’s heartwarming because it makes you feel good to see the kids laughing and having a fun time, but it’s also heartbreaking because you know why they’re there," he said. "They’re there because of loss and grief, and because they are a military family who's paid the ultimate price."
Watch the video above to hear Sinise discuss more on Snowball Express, what veteran necessities he wants to focus on next year and more.