By MICHAEL FELBERBAUM, Associated Press
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Actor Gary Sinise, known for playing Vietnam War amputee Lt. Dan in the film "Forrest Gump," is keeping his promise to raise money for a southwest Virginia Marine who lost his limbs while on a mine sweep in Afghanistan.
After canceling a March benefit concert due to a car accident, the star of TV's "CSI: New York" is set to perform with his band, named after his fictional Lt. Dan character, in Martinsville on Thursday. The cover band's performance is part of a fundraiser to help build a specially equipped home for 22-year-old Patrick County Marine Cpl. J.B. Kerns, who lost his right arm below the elbow and both his legs below the knees in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2011 during his third tour of duty.
The 57-year-old Sinise's foundation, along with others like the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, have helped build several such "smart homes" for wounded veterans across the country as part of an ongoing efforts to support U.S. military personnel and first responders. The foundations partnered to create the Building For America's Bravest program to build the homes.
Nearly 1,450 military personnel have been treated at military facilities for amputations during post-9/11 operations, and more than 435 have multiple amputations, according to the Department of Defense. And the department says that those wounded in battle now have a 50 percent better chance of surviving than any previous war because of improved armor, better medical training and emergency care.
"These are young guys that have been blown to bits and they've given a lot for their country and they're going to have to go for the rest of their lives with a real challenge," Sinise said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're trying to do as much as we can for as many of them as possible."
Sinise hopes his fundraising efforts can give those wounded, like Kerns, a "place that is adapted to their needs so that they know for the rest of their lives they have a place to call home."
The smart homes are custom designed to meet the needs of the amputee and typically feature energy-efficient appliances, along with automated systems to help them handle everyday tasks, said John Hodge, a spokesman for the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. Even cabinets and drawers can be opened and closed by pushing a button or an application on an iPad. The costs for the homes range from $500,000 to $1 million, depending on the location and features, Hodge said.
For Kerns, the new home will help him be more independent, but he said his disability hasn't stopped him from living life to the fullest.
"I might be missing three limbs but I still do a lot of stuff I used to do. I still ride my four-wheeler, I still go out shooting and fishing and hunting," Kerns said. "Ever since I've gotten hurt I've had good spirits about anything and everything. I'm going to do what I want to do, you know. I'm not going to let it slow me down."
Kerns said he thinks it's great that Sinise stuck to his word and is "giving up his free time" to help raise money for his new home.
Sinise became more active in supporting military members like Kerns after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but has long been involved with similar efforts.
When playing the role of Lt. Dan, who lost both his legs during combat, Sinise worked with Vietnam War veterans groups and wanted to honor vets "with an accurate portrayal of a Vietnam veteran who didn't end up committing suicide or getting drunk at the end of the story, but he's successful and he's walking around and he's moving forward with his life."
"Certainly his disability was important, but it didn't define him at the end," Sinise said of his character. "I've met incredible, inspirational guys who have lost parts of their body in service to our country and if I can get out there and help them ... it is my privilege and honor to do that."
Gary Sinise Foundation: http://www.garysinisefoundation.org
The Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation: http://www.tunneltotowers.org
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum.
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