Gary Sinise on his veteran’s vision
BY GARY SINISE Daily Splash columnist September 18, 2012 8:22PM
Updated: October 20, 2012 6:15AM
Kimo Williams is a Chicago composer, a professor at Columbia College and co-founder with me of the Lt. Dan Band, a cover band named after the character I played in “Forrest Gump.”
We met in 1997 when I was acting on stage in “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Steppenwolf Theatre. My buddy, Terry Kinney, was directing. He was looking for someone to write original music for the play, and Kimo was brought on board as composer. The two of us hit it off and he invited me to come to his house to play some music.
From that point on, whenever I was in town and our schedules aligned, we would get some musicians together and jam. After I started visiting our troops with the USO, I asked them to let me take the musicians on a tour. In 2004, we went to Korea, Singapore and Diego Garcia and that began what has been a wonderful journey with the Lt. Dan Band playing music and supporting our troops.
Kimo is a Vietnam veteran, and in Vietnam he did a little guitar playing on his down time. Shortly after we met, he started a charity called the United States Vietnam Arts Program.
He would raise money to take musicians to Vietnam to perform, collaborate and conduct workshops. I know going back to Vietnam has been a positive and healing thing for him. I think I connected to Kimo not only through our music but as someone who has also supported Vietnam veterans over the years. I respect him greatly for his service to our country.
As we traveled the world meeting, entertaining and supporting our veterans, wounded warriors and military families, Kimo decided to redefine and expand the mission of his charity. The U.S. Vietnam Arts Program became the U.S. Veterans Arts Program (usvap.org.) Along with his wife, Carol (also an Army veteran), part of their mission is to visit every single VA Medical Center across this country and to provide what they call “artistic tools” as a way to improve the health of the veteran population through art. Whether it is a camera, a paint set, a piano, a guitar...you name it, these artistic tools can really make a difference in a struggling veteran’s life.
Gary Sinise donated his fee for this column to his foundation, garysinisefoundation.org.