MARIETTA - 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 to raise money to build 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 gathered in Marietta College's Dyson Baudo Recreation Center Thursday for the concert, from toddlers to senior citizens.
Actor Gary Sinise leads his Lt. Dan Band during a concert Thursday at Marietta College’s Dyson Baudo Recreation Center to raise money to build a customized smart house for Army Spc. Kyle Hockenberry, a Reno resident who lost both legs and an arm to an explosion in Afghanistan. (Photo by Evan Bevins)
"It's amazing," said Hockenberry's brother, Chad, 28, of the turnout. "It makes me happy to be from this area."
Sinise took the stage following a montage of clips from "Forrest Gump," where he played the character for whom his band is named. The band performs on USO tours and headlines concerts for projects like the home being built for Hockenberry, in conjunction with the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Stephen Siller Tunnels to Towers Foundation.
U.S. Army veteran Larry Block, 62, of Belpre, came in uniform to show his respect for Hockenberry.
"This is the way you honor somebody that serves you," said Block. "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, were kicking off the weekend of their 55th wedding anniversary. They're headed for a family reunion in Chicago today, but drove from their home in Dayton to Marietta for the 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 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, who like Hockenberry served in the cavalry but was in the armored division instead of the infantry, from teasing the honoree a bit.
"I got to give him hell for being infantry," laughed McPherson.
The cost of Hockenberry's home is estimated at about $375,000, and Tunnels to Towers spokesman Chris Kuban said planning would start when about half the money was raised.
In addition to the proceeds from the show, the cause got a boost with local donations presented and $6,000 from the auction of a painting New York City artist Scott LoBaido completed on-stage as former New York Police officer Daniel Rodriguez sang "America the Beautiful."
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," said Siller's brother Frank, chairman of the foundation, at Thursday's concert. "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 race 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.