Gary Sinise is an Oscar-nominated actor and familiar face from television and movies, but on Thursday night in Marietta, Kyle Hockenberry was the star.
Sinise brought his Lt. Dan Band to the Pioneer City for a concert that raised approximately $200,000 toward construction of a customized smart house for Army SPC Hockenberry, a Reno resident and 2010 Frontier High School graduate who lost both legs above the knee and his left arm above the elbow to an improvised explosive device while on foot patrol in Afghanistan more than a year ago.
Approximately 3,000 people filled Marietta College's Dyson Baudo Recreation Center Thursday for the concert, from toddlers to senior citizens.
See The Lt. Dan Band perform “God Bless the USA” at Marietta College
"It was unbelievable to me, all these people coming out and showing their support," said Hockenberry, 20, who was back in the area from San Antonio, Texas, where his rehabilitation is being done.
Hockenberry said he had a good time and was glad to see the folks around him enjoying themselves too.
Sinise's 13-member band brought the crowd to their feet several times, with anthems like "Sweet Home Alabama" and "Don't Stop Believing." Hockenberry was grinning ear to ear and laughing when the band's two female vocalists pulled his uncle, Jim Hall, up on stage for a dueling duet of "(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman."
The concert came to a rousing close with "God Bless the USA," before Sinise took the microphone.
"Boy, I love Marietta," Sinise said. "You're going to take care of your defenders here, right?"
Sinise said the band - named for his iconic military veteran and double amputee character in the movie "Forrest Gump" - has performed nearly 200 USO shows over the last eight or nine years. They headline benefit concerts like Thursday's through a partnership of the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to raise money to build custom homes for quadruple and triple amputees.
They said it
"This is the way that we can serve, by trying to give back to great Americans like Kyle Hockenberry."
- Gary Sinise
"It was unbelievable to me, all these people coming out and showing their support."
"A young man who gave two legs and an arm. I think the least we can do is come out and support him."
- Gene Jakubik, Williamstown
"This is the way that we can serve, by trying to give back to great Americans like Kyle Hockenberry," Sinise said.
He urged those in attendance to show their support to veterans not only by donating to projects like the effort for Hockenberry but by simply thanking them when they see them.
"Pat 'em on the back. They are the providers of our freedom," he said. "We can never, ever do enough to pay that debt to people like Kyle ... and for those Gold Star families who have given their sons and daughters...."
Williamstown resident Gene Jakubik, 66, said people seem more worried about the economy than supporting soldiers like Hockenberry, but there wouldn't be an economy to worry about without people like the young soldier.
"A young man who gave two legs and an arm, I think the least we can do is come out and support him," he said.
Hockenberry arrived at the concert escorted by about three dozen motorcycle riding members of the Patriot Guard. Among those greeting him at the door was Army veteran Larry Block, clad in uniform and carrying an American flag.
"This is the way you honor somebody that serves you," said Block, 62, of Belpre. "It's just a shame that we don't have a place to seat 10,000."
Block served two tours of duty in Vietnam in the 82nd Airborne.
"That's why I'm here, to welcome him, 'cause I was not treated well," he said.
Judith Kehl and her husband, Richard, about to celebrate their 55th wedding anniversary, are headed for a family reunion in Chicago today, but drove from their home in Dayton to Marietta for Thursday's concert after learning of it online.
"We want to support the cause, and we've been following what Mr. Sinise has been doing, and it just turns us red, white and blue inside," said Judith Kehl, 77.
Parkersburg resident Scott McPherson, 35, walked to the front of the arena and spoke to Hockenberry before the start of the show. He said he wanted to show support for a fellow disabled veteran, but that didn't stop McPherson from teasing the honoree a bit.
"I got to give him hell for being infantry," laughed McPherson, who like Hockenberry was in the cavalry, but in the armored division.
Hockenberry's family was grateful for the turnout Thursday.
"It's amazing," said his brother, Chad, 28. "It makes me happy to be from this area."
Hall, Hockenberry's uncle, said his nephew has been a bit overwhelmed by the response.
"He says over and over, 'I just can't believe people care enough they're going to build me a house,'" Hall said.
The cost of Hockenberry's home is estimated at about $375,000, and Tunnels to Towers spokesman Chris Kuban said planning usually starts when about half the money is raised. Some of the timing will depend on when Kyle is ready to come home for good.
"We want to time it so that when Kyle gets out he's able to move directly into his new home," he said.
In addition to ticket sales and about $10,000 in merchandise sold, the cause got a boost with local donations of $42,000 from the Marietta Morning and Noon Rotaries and $8,500 from the Marietta Civitan Club. Other donations presented Thursday were $50,000 from Hope for the Warriors, an organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for post-Sept. 11 veterans and $32,000 from readers of Mullings.com, an online political column by Rich Galen, who was on hand to present the money.
Another $6,000 came from Marietta resident Jenni Hupp, who placed the winning bid for a painting New York City artist Scott LoBaido completed on-stage as former New York Police officer Daniel Rodriguez, a Tunnel to Towers Foundation board member who was at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, sang "America the Beautiful." Rodriguez embarked on a singing career after gaining recognition for his vocal talents in the weeks following the attacks.
Frank Siller, chairman of the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, said despite the amount raised Thursday, there's more work to do.
"We're well on our way, but we're not done by any means," he said.
The Tunnel to Towers foundation was started in honor of Stephen Siller, a New York City firefighter who was driving home on Sept. 11, 2001, when he learned of the planes that had crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Finding the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel blocked in the ensuing chaos, he proceeded to the towers on foot.
"Stephen straps 65 pounds of gear on his back," Frank Siller said Thursday. "The tunnel is almost two miles long. He runs ... to the towers where he gives his life saving others. He is my hero."
The foundation held a run retracing Siller's steps on the first anniversary of the attacks. Since then, it has spawned more than 70 affiliated runs and motorcycle rides, with two new additions taking place in Marietta in September.