Gary Sinise On CSI: NY 9/11 Episode and Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance

Gary Sinise, who helped fund the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance, on what September 11 means to him.

Richard Cartwright / CBS

There’s a memorial in Brooklyn that honors all the first responders that were killed on Sept. 11 called the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance. There are 417 faces of first responders that were lost that day. Back in 2006, they had completed about one-third of that memorial and they ran out of money. A firefighter friend of mine took me out to see it and I offered to try and help them raise the additional money to complete the memorial. They liked that idea, so we put a concert together at Brooklyn College where my band, Lieutenant Dan Band, played, and we raised all the money to complete the memorial, and it was open and dedicated in May 2008.

I met Anthony Zuiker, the creator of CSI: NY, back in 2004. It was always in his mind that my character, Mac Taylor, was a guy who was very personally involved in what happened down at Ground Zero, and also somebody who had lost a loved one there. And over the years, I’d been pitching an idea to the writers and our showrunner about doing an episode that would focus on the 9/11 anniversary and feature the Brooklyn Wall of Remembrance. At the end of last season, we weren’t sure if we were going to be coming back or not, but when we left each other we said, “If we do come back, our season premiere has to be this episode since it’s the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. It’s time to do this episode.”

Sure enough, we came back for an eighth season and Zachary Reiter and John Dove, both former New Yorkers, were assigned to write this particular episode based on the memorial. There’s an interesting crossover between fact and fiction here, because Mac Taylor is featured as a participant in helping to create this memorial. In this episode, our audience is reminded that Mac Taylor is somebody who lost a loved one in the collapse of the Towers, and for the first time we get to meet her because this episode takes place 10 years ago on the day, and 10 years later on the 10-year anniversary. It’s a very personal episode and it’s our way of paying tribute and honoring the men and women who sacrificed that day in service of the city of New York.

Like millions and millions of people around the country, I was woken up on that day and told to turn on the television by my 8-year-old daughter who came into the room. It was about six in the morning here in Los Angeles, so I spent the whole morning watching television and eventually had to get out of the house because I couldn’t take it anymore.

And like so many people, 9/11 affected me deeply and changed my life in a profound way. I was thrust into a level of public service that I never imagined. Since Sept. 11, I’ve been very active in supporting our military and first responders. I was scared into action. I was frightened for my country; I was frightened for my kids and family; I was frightened for the kind of world we were entering in the 21st century. That was a catastrophic, tragic event that I’ll never forget. We see the images every year on the anniversary, but I’ve met a lot of wonderful, incredible people who’ve lived with that every single day. I felt there was a way that I could contribute to supporting them and helping them, and by doing that, I could somehow heal some of the pain that I felt on that day.

Justice was done in killing bin Laden, but the pain and fear that he caused will never heal in some people, no matter whether he sleeps with the fishes or not. I don’t think we can forget the vulnerability we all felt from that attack when 19 guys with box cutters did so much damage to our country. If it would’ve been the end of the war, I might have understood some of the celebrating a little bit more. But what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was a call to action for many jihadists out there who eat, sleep, breathe, live, seven-days-a-week, 365 days-a-year dreaming and thinking of how they can bring down the United States, so we can’t let our guard down. When we do, we see what happens.

I always have a certain fear that anything can happen. It’s a dangerous world. Do I still have fears about that happening again? Yes, I do. I know too many military leaders who know too many bad guys who are very determined to try to do harm to the United States. We’re lucky that we have people that live 24 hours a day, seven days a week to prevent that from happening again.

As told to Marlow Stern.