Building for America’s Bravest

In 1994, Gary Sinise delivered an inspiring performance as Lt.
Dan Taylor, a double amputee Vietnam veteran, in the Oscar-winning film
Forrest Gump. Almost 20 years later, this role continues to influence
Sinise, inspiring the formation of a charity, a cover band and now a program to
build custom smart homes for amputee veterans.

After the release of Forrest Gump, Sinise was approached by
Disabled American Veterans (DAV), who wanted to present him with an award for
his compelling depiction of a disabled veteran.

“I didn’t know anything about DAV prior to playing Lt. Dan,
but they contacted me and asked me to come to their national convention,”
Sinise told O&P Business News. “From that point on, I stayed
active with that group, supporting and working with disabled veterans. And it
was all through that character.”

In 2004, Sinise’s character became the namesake for the Lt. Dan
Band, which Sinise formed in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11,
2001 in an effort to raise money and entertain troops around the world. And it
was through his band and charity, the Gary Sinise Foundation, that Sinise was
introduced to US Army Sgt. Brendan Marrocco, who would become the first
recipient of a custom smart home through the Building for America’s
Bravest program.

Brendan Marrocco

On Easter Sunday in April 2009, Marrocco was returning from a mission in
Iraq when the vehicle he was riding in triggered a roadside bomb. Marrocco
sustained a myriad of life-threatening injuries from the explosion, including a
severed artery, severe burns and the loss of all four of his limbs, but due to
the rapid response of his fellow soldiers, Marrocco was stabilized at a local
hospital. He was eventually sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical
Center for recovery, making him the first US soldier from the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan to survive a quadruple amputation.

Gary Sinise, front man for The Lt. Dan Band, performs in the courtyard of the Pentagon May 5, 2006, in support of the America Supports You program. America Supports You highlights what thousands of Americans nationwide are doing to support service members and their families.

Gary Sinise, front man for The Lt. Dan Band, performs in the courtyard of the Pentagon May 5, 2006, in support of the America Supports You program. America Supports You highlights what thousands of Americans nationwide are doing to support service members and their families.

Image: Wikimedia Commons


As Marrocco began his long recovery, he received tremendous support from
the hospital staff and volunteers, his family and local community at home in
Staten Island, N.Y. and various charities offering aid.

One such charity was the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a
New York-based foundation established to honor the life of firefighter Stephen
Siller, who died at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001. When the Tunnel to Towers
Foundation learned of Marrocco’s injuries, they determined that they would
build Marrocco a customized home to return to after he made a full recovery. In
order to raise money for this endeavor, the Tunnel to Towers Foundation reached
out to the Gary Sinise.

“I was contacted by the commissioner of the Fire Department of New
York, Sal Cassano, telling me that a group of folks wanted to do something for
this local wounded warrior, Brendan Marrocco,” Sinise said. “I had
actually met Brendan while he was at Walter Reed and having raised money
through concerts for the FDNY before, we put a concert together to raise money
to build Brendan a smart home.”

As the two foundations began working together to build Marrocco his
home, they learned that two more quadruple amputees had also survived the wars
in Iraq and Afghanistan and would be returning home.

“We took up the charge to build them homes as well. In 2011, I
launched the Gary Sinise Foundation, and in partnership with Tunnel to Towers,
we formed the Building for America’s Bravest program,” Sinise said.
“There is so much need out there, and we wanted to honor those needs
because I believe that our defenders are critical to our nation and the
strength of our nation. It’s very important that we take care of those who
serve our country and make these sacrifices.”

Building for America’s Bravest

Sinise and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation have met all of the
candidates for the Building for America’s Bravest program through various
charities and support groups for wounded warriors, in addition to visiting with
soldiers at Walter Reed.

Working with construction companies, contractors and architects in the
soldier’s local community, the Building for America’s Bravest program
designs a house that is customized to meet the needs of the individual
resident, who is also involved throughout the entire planning and building

“We have our guys sit down with the wounded warrior and talk about
what that particular person is looking for and what they would like,”
Sinise said. “We have a smart technology approach to each individual
house, and our designers work in tandem with local architects to design these
homes and make them individually built.”

Sinise signs his photo during a visit to Walter Reed for Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Grady, a soldier wounded in Iraq.

Sinise signs his photo during a visit to Walter Reed for Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Grady, a soldier wounded in Iraq.

Although each house has different requirements, amenities might include
an elevator, heated ramps and driveways for inclement weather, motion sensors
to control doors, locks and lighting, cabinets and countertops that can be
raised or lowered and wide doorways to accommodate the width of a wheelchair. A
centrally located computer system remotely controls lights, televisions, locks
and any other electric device so the resident can power devices on and off
through a cell phone or Apple iPad application. Each room in the house is also
equipped with an emergency button that will set off an alarm within the house,
as well as placing an outside call for assistance if needed.

“Each person is different and each one has different needs,”
Sinise said. “We bring smart technology into the house to make life easier
and give that wounded warrior independence.”


Although the budget for each individual home is dependent on its
location and specific requirements, a home can cost anywhere from $400,000 to
$700,000 to construct. To offset the expenses, Building for America’s
Bravest relies on fundraisers and donations, and Sinise will usually kick off
the fundraising efforts by performing a concert with his band in the local

“We really try to pull the community together to support that
individual wounded warrior,” Sinise said. “And we always try to get
in-kind donations from local builders and supply companies for plumbing,
bricks, electric and things of that kind.”

Donations are also accepted through an online smart home registry, where
patrons can either purchase specified building materials or give a general

To date, two smart homes have been completed. In addition to Marrocco,
US Marine Cpl., Todd Nicely, also a quadruple amputee, has moved into his new
home in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo. A third home is under construction for US
Marine Cpl. Juan Dominguez in Temecula, Calif., and several more homes will
break ground by summer’s end. Additionally, Building for America’s
Bravest plans to build smart homes for more than 40 more wounded soldiers
within the next 2 years.

“There are too many stories and individuals who have humbled me and
motivated me over the years to continue to try to do what I can,” Sinise
said. “I’m always taken by their determination to just forge ahead
and make the best out of a situation that they knew was a possibility but never
imagined could happen. They are moving ahead, and we just have to do what we
can to make sure that they know that what they’ve given is not being taken
for granted.” — by Megan Gilbride

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