March 1, 2019 : By Drew Menard - Liberty University News Service
Note: This article was updated with the afternoon session of the Conservative Political Action Conference. Read further for the video and story from the morning session and a slideshow of the day’s events.
The afternoon session of the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at Liberty University’s Vines Center on Friday applauded the nation’s veterans with a range of special speakers and guests.
Actor and author Gary Sinise (known for his role as Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump”) closed out the day by recognizing service members and their family members in attendance.
During his talk, Sinise asked all of the veterans in the audience to stand.
“I have a lot of veterans in my family,” he said. “But it wasn’t until I met the Vietnam veterans on my wife’s side of the family that it awakened something in me as a young person.”
Sinise began getting involved in helping veterans and eventually went on to play a wounded Vietnam veteran in “Forrest Gump.”
“It changed my life in more ways than one,” Sinise said.
After 9/11, Sinise said he felt called to do something to help the nation heal. He began volunteering with the USO and visiting troops.
“I was fearful at this time that we would deploy our troops to Iraq and Afghanistan and they would not feel appreciated,” he said.
Sinise went on to found the Gary Sinise Foundation, which aims to support the nation’s defenders, veterans, first responders, and their families. He also founded the Lt. Dan Band, which is part of the foundation, and has played at military bases and benefit events around the world.
“It’s been a beautiful mission,” Sinise said. “It’s given my life great purpose and meaning to be able to use the success I’ve had in movie and television business to do some good to help somebody else.”
Students and guests also heard from WWII veteran Marine Sgt. Edgar Harrell, one of the few remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis. Harrell recounted his heroic tale of survival as he floated in the Pacific Ocean for nearly five days after the Indianapolis was attacked by Japanese bombers. He received a standing ovation from the crowd.
President Jerry Falwell also honored longtime Liberty administrator and former WWII POW George Rogers, who was at the Bataan Death March, where soldiers were forced to march about 75 miles in five days before being sent to POW camps.
Other speakers throughout the day included Donald Trump Jr., vice president of the Trump Organization; Kimberly Guilfoyle, vice chairwoman of America First Action; Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point USA; Liberty President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki; Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary; Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin; and Virginia Congressmen Ben Cline (R-6th) and Denver Riggleman (R-5th).
David Jarrett, commander of the local Desmond T. Doss Memorial VFW Post 12179, said he enjoyed the event and hearing from Sinise, and that he is grateful for Liberty’s many efforts to support veterans.
“I think it’s imperative to have a vocal voice in the community like Liberty,” he said. “They do so much to help veterans, like hosting the Veteran’s Day Parade or giving us a place to meet at times. It was a wonderful time here today.”
Liberty University hosted national leaders, including Donald Trump Jr., and dedicated a full day of events to saluting military veterans and active service members on Friday. The university served as a satellite location for the 2019 Conservative Political Action Conference.
The events took place in the Vines Center and included live-streamed segments from CPAC’s main stage in Washington, D.C. CPAC is hosted by the American Conservative Union.
In the morning session, Vice President Mike Pence spoke from Washington, addressing Liberty specifically as he announced to the nation that he will be the keynote speaker at the 46th Commencement Ceremony in May. Pence also shared his appreciation for the nation’s veterans and promised continued support for them from the Trump Administration.
Special guests in the morning session at Liberty included Donald Trump Jr., vice president of the Trump Organization; Kimberly Guilfoyle, vice chairwoman of America First Action; and Charlie Kirk, founder and president of Turning Point USA. Liberty President Jerry Falwell and his wife, Becki, who led them in a panel discussion on a wide range of issues, including the importance of defending the innocent and the unborn, protecting religious freedom, and providing equality and opportunity for all.
Other guest panelists throughout the day included Liberty alumni who are active in supporting organizations who defend freedom and local leaders in government, including Virginia Congressmen Ben Cline (R-6th) and Denver Riggleman (R-5th).
The afternoon session will focus more strongly on the military theme with a special appearance by actor Gary Sinise (known for his role as Lt. Dan in “Forrest Gump”). Sinise is the Founder of the Gary Sinise Foundation, which creates and supports unique programs designed to strengthen and build the communities of
defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need. WWII veteran Edgar Harrell, one of the few remaining survivors of the USS Indianapolis, will also speak, as well as Col. Steve Chealander, who held the nuclear codes for President Ronald Reagan; Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary; and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin.
Veterans are the VIPs of the day and Liberty Board of Trustees Member Tim Lee, a Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam veteran, and George Rogers, a WWII survivor of the Bataan Death March who later served for many years at Liberty, will also be among those honored.
The event is free and open to the public.