Commending Lancaster High School students and the Antelope Valley community, actor/musician Gary Sinise spoke via Skype, taking the OATH in support of building Army Spec. Jerral Hancock and his family a new home.
Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band will perform 7 p.m., May 10 at the JetHawk Stadium in Lancaster, Calif.
Sinise is also known for his role as Lt. Dan in Forest Gump and Detective Mac Taylor on CSI New York.
“I’m very, very, impressed with what the students and community have done … we are just stepping in and lending a little bit of a hand to do a concert and help raise all the money needed to build Jerral and his family a new home,” said Sinise as guests listened in the high school’s library. He heard of Hancock during a veteran special on television.
For the past few years, Sinise has been traveling the county and raising money to build new homes for injured soldiers.
“It could happen to anyone on any given day, but that day it happened to me,” says Hancock, 27, speaking to a few people after the press conference. “It could have been the tank in front of me or behind me, I’m no hero, I’m nothing special, I was only doing my job.”
But special and a hero he is, especially to the students at Lancaster High School and the surrounding community.
It was Hancock’s 21st birthday when a terrorist’s bomb exploded his M-1A tank while he was driving in Baghdad, causing injuries that left him without a left arm, burns over 30 percent of his body and paralyzed from the chest down. “Today, tomorrow, yesterday … it is happening all the time,” said Hancock.
“When I first saw Jerral I though, surly a person with so many injuries has a good support system and everything they need,” said Lancaster High School history teacher, Jamie Goodreau. “That was a huge mistake and a huge lesson for our class- never assume.”
Goodreau is known for making history real and personal to her students by inviting veterans to speak to her class and give students firsthand accounts of war and the tremendous cost of freedom. When Hancock spoke, the students were captivated and inspired by his outlook on life and sense of humor. After Hancock left, they voted to do something special. Despite everything he has gone through, Hancock remains positive and encouraging. When students found out he was a single dad raising two young children (with the help of his mom and stepfather) in a small mobile home, Goodreau’s class formed Operation all the Way Home (OATH), a non-profit organization to help build a home for their new friend.
“He is so amazing and so inspiring. We told him what we planned on doing for him and he told us to ‘go for it – it seems impossible but I know you can do it,’ he encouraged us,” said Nicole Skinner, who is now attending college but is still very involved in the project.
In four months, the students raised more than $80,000. Today they have raised more than $182,000 by having car washes, pizza night, yard and T-shirt sales. “Anyone who has had a bite of pizza or donated to a garage sale, thank you – you are all a part of this,” said Goodreau.
While other kids were hanging at the beach and enjoying their summer vacation, Goodreau’s students were pounding the pavement and brainstorming to raise money.
“A lot of these kids put in more than 80 hours a week, all summer and on weekends to help me – me and my family. That is amazing. They are still working hard. They are the ones that inspire and encourage me, they are the ones that are the true heroes,” said Hancock.
A month after his near fatal injuries, Hancock woke up in a hospital in Texas with his mother at his side. He didn’t remember anything about the attack.
Stacie Tscherny, Hancock’s mother, is very grateful for all that the students and community have accomplished.
“This is so exciting and wonderful that Gary is coming to help,” says Tscherny. “I wish this was the norm – that every soldier was taken care of like this, but I know it’s not. We do live in a very special community.”
Sinise comes from a family of veterans and cited a favorite quote from Calvin Coolidge, the 30 president of the United States: “The nation which forgets its defenders will itself be forgotten.”