Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band to Perform a Benefit Concert For Injured Marine
Proceeds will go to build a 'smart home' for quadruple amputee Todd Nicely.
On September 11, 2001, New York City firefighter Stephen Siller was getting ready to head to the golf course on his day off when he heard the call that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
"He tried to come into the city to respond but the Battery Tunnel was closed to all incoming traffic," said Stephen’s older brother, Frank Siller. "Stephen put on his 60 pounds of gear and ran three miles to find his company inside the Twin Towers. Stephen didn’t come home that day."
The results of that tragedy led Siller’s family to start the Tunnel To Towers Foundation in his memory. The next year, a five kilometer race for runners and walkers was held to raise funds for firefighters injured in the 9/11 attacks, and for the families of firefighters who lost their lives. Since then, the foundation has expanded its mission to also help military men and women who have gone to war as a result of the 9/11 attacks.
"We decided a few years ago that we were going to have a lot of our energy go to help the men and women who are serving our country," Siller said.
The Foundation helps with scholarships for the children of people who have given their lives in the line of military duty. They also help veterans who come home injured transition to independent living. Toward that goal, the Foundation is joining with actor Gary Sinise and his Lt. Dan Band to present a benefit concert at 7:30 Friday night at the Family Arena in St. Charles.
The performance will benefit Cpl. Todd Nicely, 26, of Arnold, a Marine who lost his arms and legs when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan. Nicely is one of three quad amputees to survive the war, and the Foundation has pledged to build a "smart home" that will allow him to live independently.
Sinise, who currently stars as Det. Mac Taylor on "CSI: NY," is probably best known for his Oscar-nominated role as Lt. Dan, an amputee, in 1994's "Forrest Gump." He began touring to entertain troops through the USO in 2003, and took the Lt. Dan Band on its first USO tour the following year. They perform 30 to 40 concerts a year, with 75 percent of those for charities, benefits or the USO.
Sinise, who was unavailable for an interview, discussed his motivation for helping in a video from a benefit concert for Brendan Marrocco, another quad amputee war survivor.
"It’s long overdue that we honor the sacrifice of these heroes who have given up so much for us," Sinise said.
Sinise, a musician since he was a teen, plays bass and chimes in with vocals. The band includes a couple of guitarists, a drummer, a percussionist, a keyboardist, a trumpeter, a saxophone player, a violinist and several vocalists. They cover everything from Stevie Wonder and Jimi Hendrix to Kelly Clarkson, Beyonce, Evanescence, Lonestar, the Zac Brown Band and more. The band’s Web site has several concert videos, and the band is a talented, rollicking group that clearly has fun on stage.
"I like to play concerts where people walk out thinking it was better than they thought it was gonna be," Sinise said in an excerpt from the documentary "Lt. Dan Band: For the Common Good," which hasn’t been released yet. Laughing, he added, "Because people don’t have high expectations for an actor with a band, let’s face it. But I like to surprise ‘em."
Siller, who spoke by phone from the Foundation office in Staten Island, will be in St. Charles for the concert Friday.
"His band isn’t good – his band is phenomenal," he said. "I saw them on tape (first), but when you’re there in person, it’s so good. It’s just a great night."
The concert also features "America’s Beloved Tenor," former New York City police officer Daniel Rodriguez, plus "The Four Troops," a group whose four members are all active military personnel.
"They have beautiful voices," Siller said. "They just signed a big deal with Sony Records, so I mean, real professionals."
All this entertainment, all for a great cause. The Tunnel To Towers Foundation first contacted Sinise when they were building a smart home for Specialist Marrocco, who was injured in Iraq.
"I asked Gary Sinise, through a friend of mine who knew him, if he could help us raise some money and do a concert. Because I know he’s such a great American and does so much for our military," Siller said.
Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band agreed to help. At dinner a couple of months before that concert, Sinise, referring to Nicely, said, "Hey Frank, you know there’s another quadruple amputee. What are you going to do for him?"
Siller, who was aware of Nicely, said, "I’ll tell you what, Gary. I am more than willing to commit to building another house for Todd. It sounds like you are more than willing to commit to do another concert." Sinise said, "Absolutely," and the two shook hands on it. The concert here at the Family Arena is the first major fund-raiser for Nicely’s house. The goal, Siller said, is to have Nicely in his new home before Christmas.
Marrocco and Nicely are both very appreciative.
"They can’t believe that people would come together to do this for them," Siller said. "They’re both very humble human beings, and so grateful that the people in this country care. They’re just moved by it all. Besides all that, there is that sense of knowing that they are (each) going to have a home that is the next step in their recovery of some independence."
Siller and everyone involved considers it a privilege to do this.
"I can’t even explain to you in words what an honor it is to do something like this for such heroes," he said. "You hear about a quadruple amputee, you can’t even imagine what they go through on a day-to-day basis."
Bringing this all full circle, Nicely is training to run this fall’s Tunnel To Towers 5K (3.1 miles) using his prosthetic legs.
"One hero, running in another hero’s footsteps," Siller said. "It’s like, unbelievable. It’s a very, very moving story."
Everyone who attends this concert will be contributing to Nicely’s recovery.
Think about it," Siller said. "You’re coming out, the money you’re paying for your ticket is a donation – it really is a donation. And you’re having a good time besides. And you will see Todd there. I’m telling you, it’s a life-changing night. For those who come, they will never forget this night the rest of their lives. That’s how good the night is, on all different levels. Entertainment? Yes, absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt. But for the right reasons."
Siller believes Sinise’s affinity for these kinds of efforts may stem from portraying a military amputee in "Forrest Gump."
"He definitely got more involved after playing that role so many years ago," he said. "He does so many things for so many military causes. And he has a strong connection to what happened on 9/11. And he has a very big connection with the New York City firefighters, some being very close friends of his. So it’s all related, it’s all intertwined. So when you hear about somebody who’s the most severely injured warrior ever, you want to do the right thing. It was a no-brainer for him to be involved, because he does so much anyway. ... He is compelled to help Todd and others."
Sinise, who is also a co-founder with author Laura Hillenbrand of Operation International Children, is very committed to helping U.S. military servicepeople.
"If we’re gonna have an all volunteer service, I think we as a nation have to respect those that serve," Sinise said in another excerpt from the documentary. "We need to do everything (we can) to keep them and their families strong."
The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday (doors open at 6:30 p.m.) at the Family Arena, 2002 Arena Parkway, St. Charles.
Tickets are $25 to $150 and are available at www.metrotix.com. VIP tickets include prime seating and a red carpet reception at 6 p.m.