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Actor Gary Sinise appears in Tampa for benefit announcement

TAMPA — The fictional Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump lost both his legs below the knees in the Vietnam War and endured an arduous emotional recovery.

Gary Sinise, the actor who played that memorable character, said he recalled some of his own relatives who came back from Vietnam only to face a society that wanted to forget their sacrifice.

"We learned some hard lessons," he said.

A nation, Sinise said, can never forget the sacrifices of men who go to war and return with broken bodies. "There are a lot of Lieutenant Dans out there," Sinise said.

Sinise appeared outside the Tampa Bay History Center on Wednesday to announce the 12 severely wounded service members across the country selected to receive specially adapted "smart homes" that will ease some of the day-to-day challenges involving tasks that most people take for granted.

One of the first recipients of a new home this year is Marine Sgt. Mike Nicholson, 23, of Tampa, who lost both legs and part of his left arm to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in July 2011. He has undergone more than 23 surgeries.

It is hoped the new 3,500-square-foot home off Interbay Boulevard, built on four lots, will be finished by late summer, said Nicholson, who attended the event.

The Gary Sinise Foundation has partnered with the Tunnel to Towers Foundation to build the homes, which cost about $500,000 each.

"All this is unbelievable," said Nicholson, who is currently a patient at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and hopes to move back to Tampa in a few months. "There aren't even words to describe how I feel."

Sinise, who also is a musician, will play a series of concerts to help raise money for the homes. The Lt. Dan Band benefit concert will be on May 10 at Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa to help fundraising for Nicholson's home.

(Tickets, which cost $35 and $75 for VIP plus service fees, are available at SupportMikeNicholson.com.)

Each of the homes is designed with the particular needs of the veteran in mind, said designer and builder James Ramos.

Smart Homes normally feature cooktops and cabinets that lower, automated lighting, heating, air conditioning and window treatments that are controlled by an iPad, as well as elevators, front-loading washer and dryer, intercom systems and automated doors.

Ramos also said the homes employ insulation that is cutting edge, lowering utility costs to as little as $50 monthly.

The homes will allow veterans with multiple amputations to live alone if they choose, said Chris Kuban, a spokesman for the event.

Ten of the 2013 home recipients attended Sinise's event, as well as Marine Cpl. Todd Nicely, a quadruple amputee who previously received a "smart home."

Sinise, 57, who currently stars as detective Mac Taylor on CSI: NY, has supported veterans issues for many years. He said veterans need to know that society recognizes their service.

"Because of my celebrity, I can bring awareness" to the issue, Sinise said. The Department of Veterans Affairs "has pluses and minuses. . . . In such a big bureaucracy, people are going to fall through the cracks."

William R. Levesque can be reached at levesque@tampabay.com

Actor Gary Sinise appears in Tampa for benefit announcement 02/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 11:24pm]

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