5 Things We Didn’t Know About Lt. Dan from ‘Forrest Gump’

Photo Credit: Paramount
Photo Credit: Paramount

The 1994 movie Forest Gump often ends up on lists of the greatest films ever made, thanks to its excellent story, great soundtrack, and brilliant characters. The movie has so many small details that you can find new things on every watch-through. One of the film’s key and most loved characters is Lt. Dan, who, like many others in the film, has plenty of interesting backstories.

Lt. Dan Taylor is a hard-as-nails Vietnam leader whose ancestors had been killed in every American war, which led him to believe he was destined to die during a war too. After Lt. Dan is severely wounded, Gump saves him despite being ordered not to. Afterward, Lt. Dan has both of his legs amputated and resents Gump for cheating him out of his destiny. Later, Lt. Dan and Gump become life-long friends.

Forrest Gump Friends
Photo Credit: MovieStillsDB

Lt. Dan was portrayed by Gary Sinise, an actor whose life was changed by the character. Although he was already familiar with the military, Sinise was introduced to many real veterans while preparing for the character and has become a massive supporter of veteran-support causes. The Gary Sinise Foundation, which provides programs, services, and events for wounded veterans of the military, raised $194 million between 2011 and 2019.

Here are some interesting things about the beloved Lt. Dan.

A nod to “Midnight Cowboy”

Midnight Cowboy and Forrest Gump Connection
Photo Credits: A scene from Midnight Cowboy via Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Left) / A scene from Forrest Gump via Paramount (Right)

In one scene Lt. Dan and Gump are almost hit by a taxi while crossing a busy street in New York City. An enraged Lt. Dan shouts, “Hey, are you blind?! I’m walking here! I’m walking here!” While this does not seem out of character for the short-tempered Lt. Dan, it is actually a line spoken by Dustin Hoffman in “Midnight Cowboy.” Forest Gump director Bob Zemeckis put both Ratso Rizzo’s line and the song “Everybody’s Talkin'” (also from Midnight Cowboy) to cement the joke.

Marine veteran Dale Dye pushed the actors hard

Marine veteran Dale Dye
Captain Dale Dye arrives at HBO’s premiere of The Pacific held at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on February 24, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

Dale Dye entered the movie business in the 1980s after retiring from the military. He had been a captain in the Marine Corps and served in Vietnam. He appeared on camera in many movies, but he also used his first-hand experience as a military technical advisor on some of the biggest projects in Hollywood.

Dye put the actors through a demanding four-day outdoor course that was designed to go wrong. When Lt. Dan is injured in Vietnam, Gump drags him to safety while Dan fires aimlessly into the jungle. During one take of the scene, Sinise’s weapon jammed, causing Dye to fearlessly reprimand him. Sinise retaliated and the two engaged in an argument. Despite the disagreement, Sinise has since said that they had no hard feelings between them.

Lt. Dan’s beads were actually from a real Vietnam veteran

Lt Dan Rosary Beads Dog Tags
Gary Sinise as Lt. Dan Taylor in “Forrest Gump” (Paramount)

In the movie, Lt. Dan’s dog tags dangle from a rosary bead necklace, but originally he was meant to wear standard dog tags. Sinise’s brother-in-law Jack Treese was a combat medic in Vietnam and made his own rosary beads for his dog tags.

Treese was not a Catholic but thought he should take any help he could to get through the war. His actual set of rosary beads was used in the movie.

Sinise Read Fortunate Son while preparing for the role

Fortunate Son
Photo Credit: Grove Press

Fortunate Son is a moving Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography by Lewis B. Puller Jr., the son of WWII legend, hero, and Marine Chesty Puller. Chesty is the most decorated Marine in American history. Puller Jr. followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Marine Corps, which saw him serve in Vietnam. He lost both of his legs, his left hand, and parts of his right hand after he was struck by a booby trap bomb in Vietnam.

When his notoriously tough father saw Puller Jr.’s condition he broke down in tears. As a man who suffered from similar ailments as Lt. Dan, Sinise used the book to understand the difficulties faced by real veterans in these circumstances.

Sadly Puller Jr. took his own life in May 1994, two months before Forest Gump was released.

Sinise had to wear blue stockings for scenes featuring Lt. Dan without his legs

Lieutenant Dan’s Legs from Moviesinthemaking

Forest Gump was made before green screens and computer-generated imagery were commonplace tools in the movie industry. The special effects team had the tough job of editing out Sinise’s legs after Lt. Dan’s injuries in Vietnam.

To do this they used a variety of methods, which often depended on the scene. Where possible, Sinise’s legs were simply hidden from sight. When he is sat on a hospital bed the lower portions of his legs were placed in holes cut into the bed. In other scenes, Sinise wore blue stockings on his lower legs. After shooting, the special effects crew painted in the background behind the blue stockings, frame by frame.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE