February 6, 2019 Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Sacrifice (Book Review)
He and John Malkovich searched for work in Depression-era California in 1992’s Of Mice and Men. Then he was one of three astronauts who avoided catastrophe in 1995’s Apollo 13. All before his magnum opus – chasing after a criminal within the Second Life videogame on an episode of CSI: New York. The role most people recognize Gary Sinise from was the most eye-opening for him. In 1994’s Forrest Gump, he played Lieutenant Dan Taylor, a disabled Vietnam veteran who gradually rediscovers a reason for living. The role earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. What really moved him was when he received an award from the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) national convention that year for portraying their plight.
Since then, aside from acting, he has been a regular fixture on USO shows, entertaining the troops with his own group – the Lieutenant Dan Band. He is a keen supporter of America’s troops, earning honorary positions with the Navy and Marines, along with a medal from the Army. Through his memoir, he not only wants to tell his life story, but express his gratitude for the armed forces and first responders of the USA. Hence the book’s title – Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Sacrifice.
Available Tuesday, February 12th through Nelson Book, based on that very topic, Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Sacrifice sounds like it could be a novelization of that Lee Greenwood song – touching to some, cheesy to others, and thorny to the rest. However, Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Sacrifice is not just a military ode, but Sinise relating his life’s story from his childhood in ’50s-’60s Chicago to his work today. Sinise does not aim to be political with his work – citing the troop’s situation as neither a right or left issue, but an American one. Can it unite the two sides behind a common issue? Or at least give them some interesting anecdotes and events to chew over?
It certainly does provide food for thought. For one, his story is almost like that of Lieutenant Dan’s, in that he comes from a military family. His grandpa served in World War 1, while his uncles served in World War 2. Then his father, Robert, worked in the Navy before getting into film and becoming an editor. If Robert had not brought his son into work one day and showed him how he cut Herschel Gordon Lewis’ 1963 splatter flick progenitor Blood Feast together, perhaps Sinise might have continued the family tradition.
Well, provided he did not get that first taste of theater in high school. Sinise tells a good story of his first brush with acting, citing it as the start of his “life of purpose.” He sets a good scene and gives a good description of the times he lived through, be it his teen years during the tumultuous late ’60s-early ’70s, or his first encounter with Vietnam veterans through his then-girlfriend’s brothers in the early 1980’s. He was not some Damascene convert to the veterans’ cause; Sinise always approaches them with respect and sympathy for their plight. Though it is not overbearing either. They crop up as a connection to his work, be it from his appearance at the DAV convention, or producing a play based on Vietnam.
There are plenty of stories about the various tricks and turns his life has taken, from his first-and-only directorial effort in Of Mice and Men, getting behind the scenes on the 1997 George Wallace TV movie, and his reaction to 9/11. Though, it is hard to say whether it will unite both sides of the political spectrum. Judging by the book, Sinise skews towards the conservative side, though not to alt-right degrees. If anything, he is more on the soldiers’ side than either big party. The troops are valiant heroes defending the nation and deserve the respect that comes with the cost that the role entails. There is not much introspection on the military-industrial complex and the politics behind the wars fought since Vietnam. It is a popular actor’s autobiography after all. The book was not exactly going to be Noam Chomsky.
However, it also means taking his passion for supporting the US military with it. One side may be less keen on Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Sacrifice’s lack of examination – i.e. why the veterans come home to lip service at best than full support. While the other might get their biases reinforced instead of reflecting on the soldiers’ troubles. In short, it is apolitical for some, but very political for others, and it does not quite bridge that gap between the two.
Whether the reader leans one way or the other, they can respect that he lays out his thoughts, feelings, and leanings clearly and straightforwardly. In the grand scheme of things, Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Sacrifice does give the reader a good vertical slice of Sinise himself. Through his wild, high school years, theater work, entry into Hollywood and music, he lives up to the book’s title; as a humble and grateful American. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives Grateful American: A Journey from Self to Sacrifice 3.5 out of 5 stars.