Chapter Five

After the Orange Bowl, the Atheletic Department get my grades for the first term, an it ain't long before Coach Bryant send for me to come to his office. When I get there, he lookin bleak.


"Forrest," he say, "I can understan how you flunked remedial English, but it will mystify me to the end of my days how you managed to get an A in something called Intermediate Light, an then an F in phys-ed class - when you is jus been named the Most Valuable College Back in the Southeastern Conference!"

It was a long story that I did not want to bore Coach Bryant with, but why in hell do I need to know the distance between goalposts on a soccer field anyway? Well, Coach Bryant lookin at me with a terrible sad expression on his face. "Forrest," he say, "I regret awfully havin to tell you this, but you is done flunked out of school, an there is nothin I can do."

I jus stood there, twistin my hands, till it suddenly come to me what he is sayin - I ain't gonna get to play no more football. I got to leave the University. Maybe I never see any of the other guys no more. Maybe I never see Jenny Curran no more either. I got to move outta my basement, an I won't get to take Advanced Light nex term, like Professor Hooks have said I would. I didn't realize it, but tears begun comin to my eyes. I ain't sayin nothin. I jus standin there, head hangin down.

Then Coach, he stand up hissef, an come over to me an he put his arm aroun me.

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He say, "Forrest, it okay, son. When you first come here, I expect somethin like this would happen. But I tole em then, I said, just give me that boy for one season - that is all I ask. Well, Forrest, we has had ourselfs one hell of a season. That is for sure. An it certainly weren't your fault that Snake thowed the ball out of bounds on forth down...."

I look up then, an they is little tears in Coach's eyes, too, an he is lookin at me real hard.

"Forrest," he say, "there has never been nobody like you ever played ball at this school, an there won't be never again. You was very fine."

Then Coach go over an stand lookin out the winder, an he say, "Good luck, boy - now git your big dumb ass outta here."

An so I had to leave the University.

I gone back an pack up my shit in the basement. Bubba come down an he done brought two beers an give one to me. I ain't never drank a beer, but I can see how a feller could acquire a taste for it.

Bubba walk with me outside the Ape Dorm, an lo an behole, who should be standin there but the entire football team.

They is very quiet, an Snake, he come up an shake my han an say, "Forrest, I am very sorry about that pass, okay?" An I says, "Sure Snake, okay." An then they all come up, one by one, an shake my han, even ole Curtis, who is wearin a body brace from his neck down on accounta bashin down one door too many in the Ape Dorm.

Bubba say he'd hep me carry my shit down to the bus depot, but I say I'd rather go alone. "Keep in touch," he say. Anyhow, on the way to the bus station, I pass by the Student Union store, but it ain't Friday night, an Jenny Curran's band is not playin, so I say, the hell with it, an catch the bus on home.

It was late at night when the bus got to Mobile. I had not tole my mama what had happened, cause I knew she'd be upset, so I walk on home, but they is a light on up in her room an when I get inside, they she is, crying and bawling jus like I remember. What had happen, she tell me, is that the United States Army has already heard bout me not makin my grades, an that very day a notice done come for me to report to the U.S. Army Induction Center. If I had known then what I know now, I would never had done it.

My mama take me down there a few days later. She has packed me a box lunch in case I get hungry on the way to wherever we is going. They is about a hundrit guys standin aroun an four or five busses waiting. A big ole sergeant be hollerin an yellin at everbody, an Mama goes up to him an says, "I don't see how you can take my boy - cause he's a idiot," but the sergeant jus look back at her an say, "Well, lady, what do you think all these other people is? Einsteins?" an he gone on back to hollerin an yellin. Pretty soon he yell at me, too, an I git on the bus an away we went.

Ever since I lef the nut school people been shoutin at me - Coach Fellers, Coach Bryant an the goons, an now the people in the Army. But let me say this: them people in the Army yell longer an louder an nastier than anybody else. They is never happy. An furthermore, they do not complain that you is dumb or stupid like coaches do - they is more interested in your private parts or bowel movements, an so always precede they yellin with somethin like "dickhead" or "asshole." Sometimes I wonder if Curtis had been in the Army before he went to play football.

Anyhow, after about a hundrit hours on the bus we get to Fort Benning, Georgia, an all I'm thinkin is 35 to 3, the score when we whupped them Georgia Dogs. The conditions in the barracks is actually a little better than they was in the Ape Dorm, but the food is not - it is terrible, altho there is a lot of it.

Other than that, it was just doin what they tole us an gettin yelled at in the months to come. They taught us to shoot guns, thow hand grenades an crawl aroun on our bellies. When we wadn't doin that we was either runnin someplace or cleanin toilets an things. The one thing I remember from Fort Benning is that they didn't seem to be nobody much smarter than I was, which was certainly a relief.

Not too long after I arrive, I get put on KP, on account of I have accidentally shot a hole in the water tower when we was down at the rifle range. When I get to the kitchen, it seems the cook is took sick or somethin, an somebody point to me an say, "Gump, you is gonna be the cook today."

"What I'm gonna cook?" I axed. "I ain't never cooked before."

"Who cares," somebody say. "This ain't the Sans Souci, y'know."

"Why don't you make a stew?" somebody else say. "It's easier."

"What of?" I axed.

"Look in the icebox an the pantry," the feller say. "Just thow in everthin you see an boil it up."

"What if it don't taste good?" I axed.

"Who gives a shit. You ever eat anythin around here that did?"

In this, he is correct.

Well, I commenced to get everthin I could from the iceboxes an the pantry. They was cans of tomatos an beans an peaches an bacon an rice an bags of flour an sacks of potatoes an I don't know what all else. I gathered it all together an say to one of the guys, "What I'm gonna cook it in?"

"They is some pots in the closet," he say, but when I looked in the closet, they is jus small pots, an certainly not large enough to cook a stew for two hundrit men in the company.

"Why don't you axe the lieutenant?" somebody say.

"He's out in the field on maneuvers," come the reply.

"I don't know," say one feller, "but when them guys get back here today, they gonna be damn hungry, so you better think of somethin."

"What about this?" I axed. They was an enormous iron thing bout six feet high an five feet aroun settin in the corner.

"That? That's the goddamn steam boiler. You can't cook nothin in there."

"How come," I say.

"Well, I dunno. I jus wouldn do it if I was you."

"It's hot. It's got water in it," I says.

"Do what you want," somebody say, "we got other shit to do."

An so I used the steam boiler. I opened all the cans an peeled all the potatoes an thowed in whatever meat I could find an onions an carrots an poured in ten or twenty bottles of catsup an mustard an all. After bout a hour, you could begin to smell the stew cookin.

"How's the dinner comin?" somebody axed after a wile.

"I'll go taste it," I say.

I unfastened the lid to the boiler an there it was, you could see all the shit bubblin an boilin up, an ever so often a onion or a potato woud come to the top an float aroun.

"Let me taste it," a feller axed. He took a tin cup an dip out some stew.

"Say, this shit ain't near done yet," he says. "You better turn up the heat. Them fellers'll be here any minute."

So I turned up the heat on the boiler an sure enough, the company begun comin in from the field. You could hear them in the barracks takin showers an gettin dressed for the evenin meal, an it weren't long afterward that they begun arrivin in the mess hall.

But the stew still wadnt ready. I tasted it again an some things was still raw. Out in the mess hall they begun a kind of disgruntled mumblin that soon turned to chantin an so I turned the boiler up again.

After a haf hour or so, they was beatin on the tables with they knives an forks like in a prison riot, an I knowed I had to do somethin fast, so I turned the boiler up high as it could go.

I'm settin there watchin it, so nervous I didn't know what to do, when all of a sudden the first sergeant come bustin thru the door.

"What in hell is goin on here?" he axed. "Where is these men's food?"

"It is almost ready, Sergeant," I say, an jus about then, the boiler commenced to rumble an shake. Steam begun to come out of the sides an one of the legs on the boiler tore loose from the floor.

"What is that?" the sergeant axed. "Is you cookin somethin in that boiler! "

"That is the supper," I says, an the sergeant got this real amazed look on his face, an a secont later, he got a real frightened look, like you might get jus before an automobile wreck, an then the boiler blew up.

I am not exactly sure what happened nex. I do remember that it blowed the roof off the mess hall an blowed all the winders out an the doors too.

It blowed the dishwasher guy right thru a wall, an the guy what was stackin plates jus took off up in the air, sort of like Rocket Man.

Sergeant an me, we is miraculously spared somehow, like they say will happen when you are so close to a han grenade that you aren't hurt by it. But somehow it blowed both our clothes off, cept for the big chef's hat I was wearin at the time. An it blowed stew all over us, so's we looked like - well, I don't know what we looked like - but man, it was strange.

Incredibly, it didn't do nothin to all them guys settin out there in the mess hall neither. Jus lef em settin at they tables, covered with stew, actin kinda shell-shocked or somethin - but it sure did shut their asses up about when they food is gonna be ready.

Suddenly the company commander come runnin into the buildin.

"What was that!" he shouted. "What happen?" He look at the two of us, an then holler, "Sergeant Kranz, is that you?"

"Gump - Boiler - Stew!" the sergeant say, an then he kind of git holt of hissef an grapped a meat cleaver off the wall.

"Gump - Boiler - Stew!" he scream, an come after me with the cleaver. I done run out the door, an he be chasin me all over the parade grounds, an even thru the Officer's Club an the Motorpool. I outrunned him tho, cause that is my specialty, but let me say this: they ain't no question in my mind that I am up the creek for sure.

One night, the next fall, the phone rung in the barracks an it was Bubba. He say they done dropped his atheletic scholarship cause his foot broke worst than they thought, an so he's leavin school too. But he axed if I can git off to come up to Birmingham to watch the University play them geeks from Mississippi. But I am confined to quarters that Saturday, as I have been ever weekend since the stew blowed up and that's nearly a year. Anyway, I cannot do it, so I listen to the game on the radio while I'm scrubbin out the latrine.

The score is very close at the end of the third quarter, an Snake is having hissef a big day. It is 38 to 37 our way, but the geeks from Mississippi score a touchdown with only one minute to go. Suddenly, its forth down an no more time-outs for us. I prayin silently that Snake don't do what he done at the Orange Bowl, which is to thow the ball out of bounds on fourth down an lose the game again, but that is exactly what he done.

My heart sunk low, but suddenly they is all sorts of cheering so's you can't hear the radio announcer an when it is all quieted down, what happened was this: the Snake done faked an out of bounds pass on fourth down to stop the clock, but he actually give the ball to Curtis who run it in for the winning touchdown. That will give you some idea of jus how crafty Coach Bryant is. He done already figgered them geeks from Mississippi is so dumb they will assume we is stupid enough to make the same mistake twice.

I'm real happy bout the game, but I'm wonderin if Jenny Curran is watchin, an if she is thinkin of me.

As it turned out, it don't matter anyhow, cause a month later we is shipped out. For nearly a year we has been trained like robots an are going to somewhere 10,000 miles away, an that is no exaggeration. We is going to Vietnam, but they says it is not nearly as bad as what we has gone thru this past year. As it turn out, tho, that is an exaggeration.

We got there in February an was trucked on cattle cars from Qui Nhon on the South China Sea coast up to Pleiku in the highlands. It wadnt a bad ride an the scenery was nice an interestin, with banana trees an palms an rice paddies with little gooks plowin in them. Everbody on our side is real friendly, too, wavin at us an all.

We could see Pleiku almost haf a day away on account of a humongus cloud of red dust that hovered over it. On its outskirts was sad little shanties that is worst than anythin I seen back in Alabama, with folks huddled neath cloth lean-to's an they ain't got no teeth an they children ain't got no clothes an basically, they is beggars. When we get to the Brigade Headquarters an Firebase, it don't look real bad either, cept for all that red dust. Ain't nothin much going on that we can see, an the place is all neat an clean with tents stretched far as you can see in rows an the dirt an sand aroun them raked up nice an tidy. Don't hardly look like a war going on at all. We might as well of been back at Fort Benning.

Anyhow, they says it is real quiet cause it is the beginning of the gook new years - Tet, or somesuch - an they is a truce goin on. All of us is tremendously relieved, because we is frightened enough as it is. The peace and quiet, however, did not last very long.

After we get squared away in our area, they tell us to go down to Brigade Showers an clean ourselfs. Brigade Showers is just a shallow pit in the groun where they has put three or four big water tank trucks an we tole to fold our uniforms up on the edge of the pit an then get down in there an they will squirt us with water.

Even so, it ain't haf bad, account of we been for nearly a week without a bath, an was beginnin to smell pretty ripe. We is assin aroun in the pit, gettin hosed down an all, an it is jus bout gettin dark, an all of a sudden there is this funny soun in the air an some jackoff who is squirting us with the hose holler, "Incomin," and everbody on the edge of the pit vanish into thin air. We standin there butt neckid, lookin at each other, an then they is a big explosion close by an then another one, an everbody start shoutin and cussin an tryin to get to they clothes. Them incomin explosions fallin all aroun us, an somebody shoutin, "Hit the dirt!" which was kind of rediculous since we was all press so flat in the bottom of the pit by now we resemble worms rather than people.

One of them explosions send a bunch of shit flyin into our pit an them boys on the far side get hit with it an start screamin an yellin an bleedin an grappin at theyselfs. It were all too apparent that the pit was not a safe place to be hidin. Sergeant Kranz suddenly appear over the edge of the pit, an he holler for all us to get the hell out of there an follow him. There is a little break between explosions an we haul ass out of the pit. I come over the top an look down an godamighty! Lyin there is four or five of the fellers who was squirtin the hose on us. They is hardly recognizable as people - all mangled up like they has been stuffed thru a cotton baler or somethin. I ain't never seen nobody dead, an it is the most horrible and scary thing ever happen to me, afore or since!

Sergeant Kranz motion for us to crawl after him, which we do. If you could of looked down on it from above, we must of made a sight! A hundrit fifty or so fellers all butt neckid squirmin along the groun in a long line.

They was a bunch of foxholes dug in a row an Sergeant Kranz put three or four of us in each hole. But soon as we get in em, I realize I'd of almost rather stayed back in the pit. Them foxholes was filled waist stinkin deep with slimy ole water from the rain, an they was all sorts of frawgs an snakes and bugs crawlin an leapin an squirmin aroun in them.

It went on the entire night, an we had to stay in them foxholes an didn't get no supper. Jus afore dawn, the shellin eased up, an we was tole to haul our asses outta the foxholes an get our clothes an weapons an prepare for the attack.

Since we was relatively new, they was really not much we could do - they didn't even know where to put us, so they tole us to go guard the south perimeter, which is where the officers' latrine was located. But it were nearly worse than the foxholes, account of one of the bombs has hit the latrine an blowed up about five hundrit pounds of officer shit all over the area.

We had to stay there all that day, no breakfast, no lunch; an then at sundown they commenced shellin us again so we had to lie there in all that shit. My, my, it were repulsive.

Finally somebody remember we might be gettin hungry, an had a bunch of c-ration cases brought over. I got the cold ham an eggs that was dated 1951 on the can. They was all kinds of rumors goin on. Somebody said the gooks was runnin over the town of Pleiku. Somebody else says the gooks got a atomic bomb an is just shellin us with mortars to soften us up. Somebody else says it ain't the gooks shellin us at all, but Austrailians, or maybe the Dutch or the Norwegians. I figger it don't matter who it is. Shit on rumors.

Anyhow, after the first day, we begun tryin to make ourselfs a livable place on the south perimeter. We dug us foxholes an used the boards an tin from the officers' latrine to make us little hooches. The attack never come tho, an we never saw no gooks to shoot at. I figger maybe they smart enough not to attack a shithouse anyway. Ever night for about three or four days they shellin us tho, an finally one mornin when the shellin stops, Major Balls, the battalion executive officer, come crawlin up to our company commander an say we has got to go up north to help out another brigade that is catchin hell in the jungle.

After a wile, Lieutenant Hooper say for us to "saddle up," an everbody stuffin as many c-rations an han grenades in his pockets as he can - which actually present sort of a dilemma, since you can't eat a han grenade but you might nevertheless come to need it. Anyway, they load us on the heliocopters an off we flew.

You could see the shit Third Brigade had stepped into even fore the heliocopters landed. They was all sorts of smoke an stuff risin up outta the jungle an huge chunks had been blown outta the groun. We had not even got to earth afore they commenced shootin at us. They blowed up one of our heliocopters in the air, an it was a dreadful sight, people set on fire an all, an nothin we could do.

I am the machine gun ammo bearer, cause they figger I can carry a lot of shit on account of my size. Before we lef, a couple of other fellers axed if I would mind carryin some of their han grenades so's they could carry more orations, an I agreed. It didn't hurt me none. Also, Sergeant Kranz made me carry a ten-gallon water can that weighed about fifty pounds. Then jus fore we lef, Daniels, who carries the tri-pod for the machine gun, he gets the runs an he can't go, so's I got to tote the tri-pod too. When it all added up, I might as well of been toting aroun one a them Nebraska corn shucker jackoffs as well. But this ain't no football game.

It is gettin to be dusk an we is tole to go up to a ridge an relieve Charlie Company which is either pinned down by the gooks or has got the gooks pinned down, dependin on whether you get your news from the Stars an Stripes or by just lookin aroun at what the hell is goin on.

In any event, when we get up there, all sorts of crap is flyin aroun an they is about a dozen fellers badly hurt an moanin and cryin an they is so much noise from all quarters that nobody can hardly hear nothin. I be crouchin down real low an tryin to get all that ammo an the water can an the tri-pod plus all my own shit up to where Charlie Company is, an I'm strugglin past a slit trench when this guy down in it pipe up an say to the other, "Lookit that big Bozo - he look like the Frankenstein Monster or somethin," and I'm bout to say somethin back, cause things seem bad enough already without nobody pokin fun at you - but then, I'll be damned! The other guy in the slit trench suddenly jump up an cry out, "Forrest - Forrest Gump!"

Lo an behole, it were Bubba.

Briefly, what had happen was that even if Bubba's foot was hurt too bad to play football, it were not bad enough to keep from gettin him sent halfway roun the earth on behalf of the United States Army. Anyhow, I drag my sorry butt an everthin else up to where I sposed to be, an after a wile Bubba come up there an in between the shellin (which stop ever time our airplanes appear) Bubba an me caught up with each other.

He tells me he hear Jenny Curran done quit school an gone off with a bunch of war protesters or somethin. He also say that Curtis done beat up a campus policeman one day for givin him a parkin ticket, an was in the process of drop-kickin his official ass aroun the campus when the authorities show up an thowed a big net over Curtis an drug him off. Bubba say Coach Bryant make Curtis run fifty extra laps after practice as punishment.

Good ole Curtis.

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