Wounded warriors

Since returning from duty, he has lived
with his family in a rental house in Edmond. With financial help
from the community and actor Gary Sinise, he will soon get a new home
of his own.

He credits his aunt for making the
phone calls to put him in touch with the Gary Sinise Foundation,
which is now helping him obtain a smart home that will be constructed
to accommodate his mobility needs. The foundation partners with
Restoring Independence & Supporting Empowerment (RISE) to build
homes for wounded veterans.

The Dunagan house will be built in Deer
Creek, close to Guthrie, where the family is from. At a March 11
fundraiser and dinner at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage
Museum, the family will be able to see a 3-D model of the home.

“It’ll be nice to actually see
something more tangible than a blueprint. That’s all we’ve seen
so far,” Dunagan said. “It’ll be great to show investors what
they are being a part of.”

The proceeds from the sold-out gala
dinner will go directly toward the cost of building the home.

Sinise is familiar with military life.
Members of his family and his wife’s family have served in the
armed forces since World War II. His father and uncle were both in
the U.S. Navy, and most of the others, both from his wife’s family
and his own, were in the U.S. Army.

Sinise said that he has always been
motivated to honor those brave men, but one in particular left a
lasting impression; his brother-in-law, a lieutenant colonel in the
U.S. Army, died of cancer at age 39. His brother-in-law served as his
inspiration for the fictional character Lt. Dan, a soldier who is
wounded in Vietnam, in the 1994 film Forrest Gump.

“You could say that the role is
dedicated to him,” Sinise said. “Not the wounded part, of course,
but that role is in some ways dedicated to him. He definitely
inspired me; he was the type of person you want to emulate.”

After he played Lt. Dan in the film, he
was moved to do something for veterans who had served, as well as
those who had been wounded. He ramped up his efforts after the
terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“After 9/11 and our boys started
being deployed, I really start to take it a lot more seriously,” he
said.

In addition to the work with his
eponymous foundation, he leads the Lt. Dan Band. It plays United
Service Organizations (USO) tours and entertains troops overseas.

He had nothing but kind words about the
way Oklahoma treats its wounded warriors.

“It’s been great,” he said.
“Oklahoma has a great community that really rallies around its
heroes.”

He went on to explain that his
foundation is all about fostering that support and laying the
foundation for the community to then take over.

Sinise, though leading the charge with
his foundation and as a star of movies, television and stage, did not
want to be the center of attention and encouraged those interviewing
him in Oklahoma City on March 10 to talk instead with Dunagan or
injured Vietnam War veteran Sammy Davis, who serves as an ambassador
for Sinise’s foundation.

Sinise called Dunagan and Davis “the
real heroes.”

Davis served in the U.S. Army and
retired in 1984 due to injuries sustained during the Vietnam War.
Davis also is the recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor. The
medal is awarded for conspicuous bravery at the risk of one’s own
life and with a disregard for one’s safety.

He was injured when he was hit by 30
“beehive” rounds from a howitzer cannon, shattering his fourth
lumbar vertebrae. Bullets were lodged in his leg, back and “in the
buttocks, just like Forrest Gump,” Davis said with a smile.

He wears one of the bullets around his
neck as a reminder of that day. When he talks about the round that
broke his back, he calls it “the lucky one”; since it interrupted
nerve communication, it served as a partial pain blocker, allowing
him to continue fighting.

After his injury, he disregarded both
his injuries and his inability to swim and utilized an air mattress
to save the lives of three fellow soldiers who were on the opposite
bank of the river, taking heavy fire.

“It’s the love in your heart for
your brothers, your fellow soldiers, that makes you do things like
that,” he said. “They would have done it for me, so I did it for
them. It’s that simple.”

He received the medal one year and one
day after his injuries and remained a friend of former President
Lyndon B. Johnson and former first lady Lady Bird Johnson. He often
visited the Johnson ranch in Texas and said the Johnsons “became
second parents to [him].”

In a funny twist, it is Davis who is
actually receiving his medal from President Johnson in archival
footage seen in Forrest Gump.

Hollywood effects wizards superimposed
Tom Hanks’ head on Davis’ body as LBJ placed the medal on him.
Davis became part of the foundation due to his involvement in the
movie.

Read more about Dunagan’s journey
from solider to wounded veteran at:
http://www.okgazette.com/oklahoma/article-20641-homebound-angel-track.html.

Devon Green

Devon Green is a life and food reporter for Oklahoma Gazette. She lives in Oklahoma City with her husband Kevin and their two slightly evil felines, Goodluck Jonathan and Charles Taylor. Devon has a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Oklahoma and once ran away with the circus to Macau, China. She is passionately local and lives to promote quality of life in OKC. She can most often be found eating, writing or writing about eating — while eating.

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