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Gary Sinise sends 2,000 kids who lost parents in combat to Disney

Gary Sinise at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark., April 29, 2016. (Master Sgt. Jeff Walston/U.S. Air Force)
December 12, 2018

Since 2001, 2,000,000 American children have had at least one of their parents deployed while serving in the military.

Many of these parents lose their lives in combat and never return. This is where “Forrest Gump” star, Gary Sinise, comes in with his Snowball Express program, USA Today reported.

As part of the Gary Sinise Foundation, Snowball Express was created for Gold Star families to feel remembered and for them to see that they are not alone, according to the website.

Sinise said, “It’s something I feel is incredibly important for our nation, letting the children know that we do not forget their sacrifices and we honor them. And it’s such a great feeling to see them healing, smiling, and having fun.”

Each December, the Snowball Express flies more than 1,000 Gold Star children from around the country to Disney World on American Airlines flights.

This latest trip, with more than 100 children who lost a parent in combat, departed from the Nashville International Airport and the scene was a tearjerker.

Jen Tringale was at the airport and said of the moment, “When they announced them over the loudspeaker and they lined up to board the plane the whole airport literally stopped and sang the national anthem with military present in salute. Most every person standing around, myself included was bawling at the sight of these kids and spouses who have paid so great a price for our country. To see all of this at Christmas time was so humbling. Seeing the general public in an airport stand still to honor these kids was simply beautiful.”

A day earlier, Sinise saw off another Snowball Express flight departing from Los Angeles.

Sinise will be joining the kids later in the week. “I’ll join up in a few days, Have fun, kids! We love you,” he said in an Instagram post.

Snowball Express started over 10 years ago after a deployed soldier sent his wife a letter that she was only to open if he was killed. In the letter, he said that his one wish was that she would take their children to Disney World.

Because of that single letter, Gary Sinise honors that soldier’s wish each year, for thousands of children.

Snowball Express covers all expenses for the children and their surviving parent or guardian.

American Airlines, who is a sponsor for the program, organized 12 chartered planes from 26 cities to fly the Gold Star families to Orlando, according to Eagle 97.

Snowball Express hosts the five-day experience for more than 1,750 children of the fallen and their surviving parent or guardian. The trip is meant to be a “therapeutic retreat with a blend of fun and inspiring programs.”

Since the holidays can be particularly challenging for grieving families, the trip also offers peer support to help them.

Other events are hosted throughout the year for these families and right in their own communities. Families are able to build friendships with one another through events like baseball, camping trips, and other educational opportunities.

On his website, Gary Sinise states, “Freedom and security are precious gifts that we, as Americans, should never take for granted. We must do all we can to extend our hand in times of need to those who willingly sacrifice each day to provide that freedom and security. While we can never do enough to show gratitude to our nation’s defenders, we can always do a little more.”