Forrest Gump Actor Gary Sinise Treats 1K Gold Star Children to Free Disney World Vacation
"The important ingredient is that these kids meet each other and they know they're not alone," the actor said
Actor Gary Sinise, who famously played Lt. Dan Taylor in 1994’s Forrest Gump with Tom Hanks, treated about 1,000 children of fallen military members to an all-expenses-paid trip to Disney World for the holiday season.
Through his nonprofit, the Gary Sinise Foundation, and a partnership with American Airlines, Sinise invited more than 1,700 Gold Star family members to the world-famous theme park last week, according to WKMG.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of these families,” the 64-year-old actor told the outlet. “I love them and I want to just do something to help them through.”
Families who attended the trip came from 87 cities around the country, and after a four-day vacation, the families returned home on Dec. 11, WKMG reported. They were treated to a concert starring Sinise and his rock band on the last day.
“The important ingredient is that these kids meet each other and they know they’re not alone,” Sinise said. “They make friendships that last a lifetime.”
The Gary Sinise Foundation raises $30 million annually, 90 percent of which goes toward the organization’s programs, like building specially adapted smart homes for severely disabled vets and bringing military families to Disney World, the actor previously told PEOPLE.
Sinise’s grandfather served in WWI, and two of his uncles fought in WWII. His father participated in the Korean War, and he said he learned about the Vietnam War from his brothers-in-law. After starring in Forrest Gump, Sinise made appearances at military conventions and later full USO tours, which helped lead to the founding of his nonprofit in 2011 to raise money for vets and their families.
“The common thread between all of these kids and all of these family members is that they’ve lost someone,” Sinise previously told PEOPLE in 2018. “They’re grieving and we want to provide a healing opportunity for them by bringing them all together in the same place.”
“For many of these kids, they’re going through this grief process just kind of by themselves, and they’re from different towns from around the country,” Sinise explained.
“When they come to our event, they are surrounded by children and family members who all understand what they’re going through,” he continued. “They’re all going through the same thing. And we just try to give them a lot of love and joy, and provide a healing atmosphere for them right before Christmas time.”