How 1,000 Kids Who Lost a Parent in Combat Got to Visit Disneyland for Free

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I’ll never forget the first time I researched what survivor benefits are like for the families of fallen soldiers are in the United States. I was completely shocked at how little we feel we owe their spouses and their children in exchange for their ultimate sacrifice – it’s a pittance, truly.

These soldiers follow orders, they risk everything, and sometimes they pay with their lives. And at home, their families do the same thing, but I feel like we never see and talk about and lift up the kids they leave behind.


One man wanted to change all of that, though, at least for a day. You might know him – he’s actor Gary Sinise. He’s popular for his roles in Forrest Gump, The Green Mile, Apollo 13, and many others, but he’s also been active in philanthropical communities for years.

The majority of his work, including his Gary Sinise Foundation, centers around the needs of veterans, defenders, first responders, their families and communities.

One of his programs is called “Snowball Express” (shoutout to all of my fellow 80s babies who remember the Disney original movie by the same name), and since 2017, they’ve honored fallen U.S. soldiers by taking their kids on trips to Disney World or Disneyland.

Recently, they took over 1750 kids on a five-night trip that I’m sure they’ll never forget.

They also received “we remember” pins, ensuring that no one will ever forget the sacrifice one of their parents made for this country, either. The park also flew 600 American flags – one for each life lost in combat.

The actor and philanthropist told CBS Los Angeles that “the most important thing about Snowball Express is that these children don’t feel alone. There’s a lot of healing and a lot of bonding and a lot of friendship that goes on that helps them through the rest of the year.”


There’s no way to correct some hurts inflicted on children, but there are ways to help shine the wounds. Sinise is giving them the chance to get away, to remember they’re kids, and to connect with others who can understand their experience.

That’s to be commended, and I hope these families encounter more and more kindness as the months and years wear on.