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CNN Heroes: Stars and Stripes Unite

Aired November 8, 2014 - 19:30   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Veterans Day, it's a day to honor and thank military personnel who've served the United States. Since 2007, CNN HEROES has honored many everyday citizens who devoted their lives to supporting the men and women of the Armed Forces. Among those who are giving back are some familiar faces as well.

GARY SINISE, ACTOR: People did recognize me from "Forrest Gump."

COOPER: Celebrities who step away from the limelight to honor, support, entertain, and even humor the troops.

KATHY GRIFFIN, COMEDIAN: My official name in Afghanistan was General Foxy Lady.

COOPER: Tonight we take a look at some of our famous friends. Big names who are helping U.S. veterans in big ways. Like Kid Rock.

KID ROCK, MUSICIAN: Trust me, I am far from politically correct. I don't play that game at all.

COOPER: One of music's most outspoken stars, Kid Rock sings to packed venues but also goes to military bases to perform for the troops.

KID ROCK: Whatever you can do, are able to do, just try and do something.

COOPER: And Gary Sinise.

SINISE: I'm Lt. Dan Taylor. Welcome to 4th Platoon.

COOPER: Whose role in the hit film "Forrest Gump" made him a household name but who also has a deep-rooted reason for helping the troops.

SINISE: I have a Vietnam veteran in my family. I remember what it was like for them to come home and nobody cared.

COOPER: Lastly I'll talk to my friend, comedian Kathy Griffin.

(On camera): You had a personal connection with your dad who was a vet.

(Voice-over): Who'll risk everything just to put a smile on a soldier's face.

GRIFFIN: You get this overwhelming feeling of I will do anything to make them laugh.

COOPER: These stars will show you a different side.

KID ROCK: I guess it's the softer, easy listening side of Kid Rock, which I am sure many people will call B.S.

COOPER: Their patriotism is personal. And they'll tell us why.

First up -- one is a Michigan bad boy. The other a Texas do-gooder.

DAN WALLRATH, OPERATION FINALLY HOME: We just want you all to come out today and see the top homes we build for our heroes.

COOPER: And together, they're an unexpected powerhouse. Two tireless crusaders for veterans across the country.

KID ROCK: It is my honor to present CNN Hero, Dan Wallrath.

COOPER: Music star kid rock met CNN Hero and humanitarian Dan Wallrath in 2010. Kid Rock knew Dan was building homes for injured troops. But he didn't know that their meeting would ignite a partnership to help veterans across America.

KID ROCK: I met Dan Wallrath at CNN Heroes event. Good old Texas boy and loved the work he was doing. And he asked me if I'd like to help out. I said that'd be great. Through all my conversations and meetings with Dan and his crew about building these houses and being involved, helping him raise money and doing what I can, I came to him, I was like, maybe we could, you know, build one or two in Michigan?

COOPER: Kid Rock got his start in the 1990s. And he's gone on to sell more than 25 million albums in the United States. Still he's always been grounded by his Midwestern roots and his heart has always been with the troops.

KID ROCK: I live in Clarkston, Michigan. It's a small town so yes, I do feel a lot more connected to, you know, people who serve. Yes, when I was growing I had an uncle, served in Vietnam and a grandfather in World War II. But, you know, I was raised very patriotic. You know. Love my country. And, you know, just want to do everything I can to support out there fight the good fight.

COOPER: With Kid Rock's support, Dan Wallrath and his team and Operation Finally Home agreed to venture north to Kid Rock's home state of Michigan.

KID ROCK: First of all, welcome home. Thank you for your service. On behalf of Pulte Homes, which is a great Michigan-based companies, and Cowboys over here from Texas, Operation Finally Hope, and myself, you got a brand new home coming right across the street. Fully furnished, top to bottom.

I found, you know, Sergeant (INAUDIBLE). And it was great. You know, the house is incredible. The guys have pounded every nail and laid all the plumbing and electrical, the roofing -- just hats off to all of them. The whole experience of surprising him, it just made you feel good. You know, I know it moved him. It moved me. And everybody that was there.

COOPER: Known for his ability to mobilize teams to build topnotch homes for troops, Wallrath found he made a partner and fan in Kid Rock.

KID ROCK: They go into a community and ask everyone in that community to help out. Let's all get together and build this house. The quality of the homes are beyond first-class. They get furniture. They load the pantries up. You know, they really get you started on your feet in a great way.

I just think the work they're doing is incredible. And you know, can't applaud them enough.

COOPER: Kid Rock has been on four USO tours and spent time performing for the troops in war torn areas.

KID ROCK: You get into this business because you kind of have a big ego. You know, we love the music and everything else. But I think honestly a lot of us, you know, up here, you know, we love the accolades. You know, I have never been prouder or have had more accolades in my life than being over there. And it was mutual. You know, it's I'm applauding them and they're applauding me. It's kind of like -- you know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up, Kid Rock?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's up, Kid Rock?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thanks for coming to Baghdad, man.

KID ROCK: Because it makes you feel so good, proud, fulfilled.

COOPER: For Kid Rock what matters is giving back to the veterans who served the United States.

KID ROCK: Yes. It doesn't matter where you from, your background. What you have done. I don't know. If you served time in prison or this, that, and the other, you know. You can always give back. You know, especially to our military in some way. You know? Whether it's shaking a hand, or, you know, going over and singing a song in the Middle East. There is something everybody can do.

COOPER: Kid Rock is grateful for the opportunity to meet and perform for those serving.

KID ROCK: When you're in the comforts, the luxury of living, you know, the lifestyle of the blessed to have, and then you go over there and you know, yes, you're in a war zone. And it freaks you out a little bit. It's crazy scenario. You know, where the sirens going off, you've got to get off the stage because, you know, someone launched a mortar. Being there and seeing all that stuff, whew, just brings it all home.

COOPER: With a partnership CNN Hero, Dan Wallrath, as well as his own foundation, Kid Rock is reaching out to the troops in every way he can. In 2010 he released a moving song entitled "Care" and embarked on a charity tour to reach out to those in need.

KID ROCK: The song "Care" is -- I guess it's the softer, easy listening side of Kid Rock, which I'm sure many people will call BS. Be like whatever. But, you know -- you know, as get older, you wake up different every day and different moods, you know. And music puts you, I think accents the mood you're in.

We kind of wrote about what was going on in the world at the time. You know. I can't stop the war. I can't shelter homeless and feed the poor. I can't walk on water. I can't save your sons and daughters. I can't change the world and make it fair. But the least that I can do is care.

Now there's a great lyric.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, my hero, KID ROCK.

COOPER: In 2011 sharing the CNN Heroes stage once again, Kid Rock performed "Care" for a packed house in Los Angeles.

KID ROCK: As much of a Hollywood fan as I am not, I don't think there is anyone out there who doesn't care about our soldiers. From sending a care package to a letter, supporting a military family, just being there for them. You know, trying to find out what their needs are. Whatever you can do, are able to do, just try and do something. I think it's as simple as that.

COOPER: Up next.

SINISE: I'm a bass player and I'm in a band, you know.

COOPER: His "Forrest Gump" legacy lives on. And later, Kathy Griffin raises some eyebrows.

GRIFFIN: My official name in Afghanistan was General Foxy Lady.


COOPER: For decades, Gary Sinise has been in the spotlight as a stage performer, television actor, movie star and musician. But far from the limelight he is a man on a personal mission to support and strengthen America's servicemen and women and their families.

Gary started a nonprofit that provides housing and support services for veterans. His band has traveled the globe to perform hundreds of free shows for the troops.

For Gary his passion and patriotism started young.

SINISE: I have Vietnam veterans in my family. I remember what it was like for them to come home and nobody cared. So I wanted to go out there and make sure they knew that we were not forgetting them.

I have a grandfather. He served in World War I. My dad served in the Navy. My dad's two brothers were in World War II. My nephew Gavin is in the army. Has done two deployments to Afghanistan. When I meet these folks, I very much see my own family members in


COOPER: Nearly four decade ago, Gary started volunteering with veterans groups. In the 1980s, he offered veterans food and entertainment at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago.

SINISE: I'm Lt. Dan Taylor. Welcome to the 4th Platoon.

COOPER: But it was in 1994 with release of blockbuster film "Forrest Gump" and Gary's role as a Vietnam war commander named Lt. Dan Taylor made him recognizable worldwide.

SINISE: Thought I'd try out my sea legs.

TOM HANKS, ACTOR, "FORREST GUMP": But you ain't got no legs, Lt. Dan.

SINISE: Yes, I know that.

COOPER: And it was that role that soon connected Gary with the military community and beyond.

SINISE: The first military hospital that I visited was Landstuhl in Germany. And they didn't know who I was. Except they knew I was from "Forrest Gump."

Over there. They're over there.

And so they started calling me Lt. Dan and laughing. Then I remember, the first group of injured that I met. Their faces lighting up when they saw me. They're burned up and banged up. But their attitude changed.

COOPER: After the attacks of September 11th, Gary says he became even more dedicated to veterans as well as the 9/11 first responders and their families.

SINISE: When those buildings came down and we started having several thousand deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan, and they started getting hurt and started getting killed, I just volunteered. Starting doing what can an entertainer do. First thing I did was volunteer for the USO and started going overseas to the war zones.

COOPER: Gary teamed up with musicians who wanted to cater their shows to the men and women on the front lines.

SINISE: I told the USO folks hey, you know, I'm an actor. But I have a bunch of musicians I play with. Let me take them out and entertainment. People did recognize me from "Forrest Gump."

Where are you boys from in the world?


They were calling me Lt. Dan all the time. I thought it was kind of catch. Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band. The band is a part of the overall mission to give back and to do something. I'm a bass player and I'm Lt. Dan. You know.

COOPER: Since 2003, Gary and the Lt. Dan Band have performed nearly 200 shows for troops around the world. From Iraq to Afghanistan, Korea to Kuwait, Gary has traveled to war torn and remote areas to offer first-class entertainment to U.S. armed forces.

SINISE: Played up there.

COOPER: This year we caught up with Gary and the Lt. Dan Band in Jacksonville, North Carolina. At Camp Lejeune where fans lined up hours before the show.

SINISE: And we're going to play for the Marines today. We've got some units that have just deployed back. So they've just returned home. And many, many families here. It's just a great heartwarming feeling to see these people smiling after such a long, long war and multiple deployments.

COOPER: Lt. Dan might have been a role he played but Gary Sinise spent 20 years bringing that character to life and inspiring servicemen and women around the world.


SINISE: Thank you for serving. Thanks for serving.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your performance in "Forrest Gum", everything that you did in that movie is what I did when I hurt myself. I went through depression. I got angry. And now, now I'm living to the fullest. So I want to thank you for inspiring me during that movie to be what I am right now. Thank you so much.


COOPER: Should point out Gary makes no money performing for the troops. In fact the concerts he puts on are just a small part of an even larger campaign to reach and support veterans. In 2015 his Gary Sinise Foundation will have 30 new homes for wounded veterans that are either completed or underway.

SINISE: We have thousands of wounded with special needs now. And they're going to have life challenges forever. And their families are going to have those challenges so we're trying to build homes for those that are really in need of that kind of special housing. We're building homes for very badly injured service members.

These are people that serve and protect and defend the United States of America. We all benefit from the freedom and security that they provide us.

COOPER: Gary says giving back has been more rewarding than any award he could ever receive.

SINISE: People are always asking me what's the best thing to do. I always tell them to look in their neighborhood first. To start there. Is there a military family in your neighborhood that has somebody who's deployed. Maybe they've lost a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, a brother, a sister. Build relationships with the veterans and military families in your own community. And reach out to them.

COOPER: His commitment, his passion is clear to see.

SINISE: I have seen too much over the years in the war zones and the hospitals to stop doing it. I am in the public eye and I can draw attention to these folks and to try keep people aware of what's going on. A lot of need out there. And I am just trying to do what I can, do my part.

COOPER: Coming up next, Kathy Griffin breaks the rules to get some laughs.

GRIFFIN: I knew that that night I had to bring a general on stage with me and demand on a microphone that he call me General Griffin.


COOPER: She is a TV star and an Emmy and Grammy Award winning comedienne. Kathy Griffin has been making people laugh for decades. She starred in hit shows like Bravo's "My Life on the D List." And has performed hundreds of times for sold-out crowds across the world. But it's giving back to those who defend the United States that gives Kathy her biggest boost.

(On camera): I think a lot of people don't realize how involved you are in veterans' causes.

GRIFFIN: Yes, and I became involved when I want to Afghanistan on a USO tour and went to Kabul and Kandahar and a FOB, Forward Operating Base which is --

COOPER: Yes, I'm familiar.

GRIFFIN: Have you ever done any reporting over there or did you just pretty much model?


COOPER: No. I've been there.

GRIFFIN: OK. All right. I guess so. And it was a great learning opportunity for me. But also someone said the first time you go overseas and do a show you're going to kind of get hooked and that's what happened.

It is an audience like no other because you're dealing with, you know, young men and women and they're in a war zone, and they've seen and witnessed everything. And so as a comic you really want to bring the heat.

COOPER: The military gives you -- like tells you, there is some things you shouldn't talk about? GRIFFIN: It's actually kind of scary. It's a pretty scary letter.

COOPER: What do they not want you to talk about?

GRIFFIN: They said I couldn't make fun of people, deities, groups. I said that's my whole act. That's all I got. And the first show I did, I tried to stick to the rules and I bombed.

So you guys are in lockdown which -- it's like you're prisoners. It's like you're prisoners. You're locked down.

The second show I just had to ignore those rules and the first time I used profanity I got a really big laugh.

It's my first day in Iraq, what a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hole.


You get this overwhelming feeling of I will do anything to make them laugh. They have been to hell and back. They are currently still dealing with this on a daily basis. I am going to leave after two weeks. But they're really living it.

Shut the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) up, you bitches. I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I'm kidding.

My objective is, always to make someone laugh. And that's the most important thing because that's what I do. You know, you have served us. Now if I could just make you laugh that's what I want.

COOPER (voice-over): From state side events to hospital visits to these trips to meet the troops in person that are the most eye opening. As seen in her Bravo series "My Life on the D List" Kathy is devoted to the troops.

(On camera): There is a lot of things you could be doing. But to actually go overseas and, you know, it's an investment of time. There is safety issues as well. Why that? Why veterans?

GRIFFIN: I've felt in my life I would go to Afghanistan or Iraq. Being in their environment, my act was very personal to them. I had so many troops saying, please don't forget us. Please tell our story. And I said that's what they want. They want their story told.

COOPER: I heard that you would demand people call you a certain name?

GRIFFIN: Yes, when I want to Afghanistan, I thought it was time that they got schooled a little bit. So I asked everyone to call me General Griffin. And let's role play. You be Kathy Griffin. I am a 22-year-old soldier. Go ahead.

COOPER: Call me General Griffin.

GRIFFIN: Miss Griffin, I don't thing I can. And then, of course, I knew that that night I had to bring a general on stage with me and demand on a microphone that he call me General Griffin. And I would not stop until he did. And finally I broke down one of the commanding officers so much that they actually made be a uniform. And my official name in Afghanistan was General Foxy Lady.

Go ahead, get it. I am proud.

COOPER: This is your uniform?

GRIFFIN: Yes, I -- they actually surprised me with this. But after having to call me General Foxy Lady for two weeks they gave me this as a parting gift. Now look. I --

COOPER: I don't see any actual ranks and general on this, though.

GRIFFIN: I'm pretty sure I'm the general. I mean, I don't have the paperwork. You know. Look. There is something called the honor system. And I think if anyone ever told I was General Foxy Lady, I am.

COOPER: Do you think -- you know, there's a lot of people who have felt disconnected from the wars in Afghanistan, from the wars in Iraq, which is why probably a lot of the soldiers you talked to say, look, don't -- you know, don't forget about us. You had a personal -- your dad was a vet.

GRIFFIN: My dad was in World War II. I had many conversations about this before he passed away which was it was a different era where you didn't talk about the -- you know, emotionally -- really, horrible and challenging things on the battlefield. My dad was actually a photographer in the army. He would fly over enemy bases and take photos.

COOPER: Wow. That's interesting.

GRIFFIN: It's a very interesting job.

COOPER: It's also really dangerous.

GRIFFIN: And I would often say, you know, tell me a WW II story. That's what we called it in our house, WW Two. And he just kind of didn't really want to talk about it. And sometimes he would but he would usually tell me a funny story. One thing that I have really gotten a lot out of and endlessly fascinated by is hearing each individual story. Because this is thankfully a generation that is much more open to talking about things.

And a lot of the great work with certain veterans organizations I work with or have observed is they're very good about getting the men and women to talk about their experiences and helping them in that way.

COOPER: You're also recognize by a veterans' organization.

GRIFFIN: Yes, when I came back from -- I think it was Iraq, I decide to be very magnanimous and give out free tickets to whatever nearby base was close to a theater I was playing. And then I met a lot of veterans that said, you're not Toby Keith. And I hooked up with this because they let the vets go on the computer and pick who they want to go and see.

COOPER: Right.

GRIFFIN: So now every single show I do I have vets. I meet my vets. And yes, I always give out a shout-out to the vets and their loved ones because when I met so many folks that were serving in the war zones at that time in those countries, they often expressed, you know, my wife is the real hero. My partner is the real hero.

COOPER: Right.

GRIFFIN: My kids are the real hero.

COOPER: Is it really --

GRIFFIN: Because I'm not there. What? What's your question?

COOPER: You know, you've been trying to get involved with HEROES for a long time.

GRIFFIN: First of all, you have a lot of nerve even bringing up HEROES to me.


GRIFFIN: OK. Talk about a wounded warrior. OK. I have been wanting to present at HEROES forever because I think it's a truly amazing award show. And I believe I confronted you New Year's Eve about it.

COOPER: All right. Let's watch.


GRIFFIN: Let's talk about HEROES. Let's talk about HEROES.

COOPER: What about HEROES?

GRIFFIN: OK. CNN HEROES is an amazing show.

COOPER: It's an amazing night.

GRIFFIN: Exactly. Number one, not only was I not even invited I --

COOPER: Who you you're not invited.

GRIFFIN: They told that they didn't trust me?


COOPER: Did people not know you were actually volunteering and going overseas to Afghanistan and Iraq? Because that would seem to be --

GRIFFIN: No. I guess currently over at CNN you guys are so worried of my potty mouth that they actually said you can't come to the show or present. However, what if we showed you mopping up at soup kitchen. COOPER: To make up a past wrong, I would very much like you to

present at CNN HEROES. Is that something you'd been wanting to do?

GRIFFIN: You trust me?

COOPER: I trust -- I absolutely trust you.

GRIFFIN: I'm excited to go.

COOPER: Well, thank you.



GRIFFIN: Just tell me.