Chapter 12

Let me say this: Us bein in the city of Baghdad was about as welcome as a tankful of bastids at a family reunion.

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People done seen us an run off screamin an hollerin, an some of them begun thowin rocks at us. We drove down a bunch of streets, lookin for some kind of fuel depot, an at one point Dan says we better stop an try to figger out some way to disguise ourselfs, or we will be in real trouble. We got out of the tank an looked around. The tank was so covered with dust it was barely recognizable, except for the American flag painted on the side, which showed through a little. Sergeant Kranz observes that it is too bad we ain't got any mud on our tank treads now, cause we could use it to hide over the flag. Dan says that ain't a bad idea, an sends me over to a ditch in the street to get some water for to make our own mud. Turns out, it ain't water in the ditch, but sewage, which makes my job somewhat less than pleasant.

When I come back with the bucket, everbody be holdin they nose an fannin the air, but we gone ahead an mixed up some dirt with the sewage an slapped it over our American flag. Dan remarks that if we are caught, we will now probly be shot for spies. Anyhow, we all got back in the tank an Sergeant Kranz give Sue the slop bucket, with some fresh slop, in case the mud wears off an we have to do it again.

So, off we go. We drove around some more, an our disguise seems to be workin. People might look up when we go by, but other than that, they don't take much notice. Finally we come to a fillin station, looks like ain't nobody home. Dan says for me an Sergeant Kranz to go see if they got any diesel fuel. We get out but ain't got three steps when all sorts of commotion begins. Jeeps an armored vehicles suddenly begun roarin down the streets from all directions an slam to a stop right across from us. Me an Sergeant Kranz crouched down behind a garbage bin to wait an see what's goin on.

Presently, from one of the armored vehicles a man come out, got a big bushy mustache an is wearin a green fatigue uniform an a little red beret. Everbody be sort of kowtowin to him.

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"Sombitch!" whispers Sergeant Kranz. "That's Saddamn Hussein hissef!"

I squinted over, an sure enough, it look like all the pitchers I seen of him.

At first, he don't seem to take no notice of us, an begun walkin into a buildin, when all of a sudden, he stops an spins around an does sort of a double take at our tank. Suddenly, all the A-rabs around Saddamn Hussein begun wavin automatic weapons an come rushin over an surround the tank. One of em gets up on top an knocks on the hatch. I guess Dan an Sue done thought it was us, cause they opened the hatch an found themsefs starin at about two-dozen gun barrels.

The A-rabs drag them down from the tank an stand them up against a wall with their hands in the air. Actually, since Dan has took off his artificial legs he, of course, has to sit.

Saddamn Hussein stands in front of them with his hands on his hips, an begun laughin to his guards an flunkies.

"See," he says, "I tole you you ain't got nothin to fear from these American soldiers! Look what we got here drivin one of their best tanks - one's a cripple an the other guy's so fuckin ugly he almost looks like a ape!"

At this, Sue get a pained look on his face.

"Well," Saddamn say, "since they ain't no identification on your tank, you must be spies - Give em a cigarette, boys, an see if they got any last words to say."

Seems that things are lookin pretty bleak, an Sergeant Kranz an me, we can't figger out what to do next. Ain't no sense in us tryin to rush the guards, account of they is so many of them we would just be shot down. Can't get back in the tank, neither, cause they are guardin it as well. Can't even run away, cause it'd be cowardly, an besides, where'd we run away to?

By now, Dan is smokin his last cigarette an Sue begun to take his apart an eat it. I guess he is figgerin it for a last meal. Anyhow, all of a sudden ole Saddamn turns around an goes up to our tank an climbs in. Few minutes later, he come out again an hollers for the guards to bring Dan an Sue over to him. Next thing you know, all three of em are inside the tank.

Turns out, ole Saddamn ain't never been in a modern tank before, an don't understand how it works, an so he has decided to give Dan an Sue a reprieve, at least until they can show him how to run the tank.

They is down inside it for a little bit, an then the tank suddenly starts up. Slowly, the turret begun to turn around, an the barrel of the big ole cannon begun to depress till it was sort of lookin right in the faces of the guards. The guards got kind of funny expressions on an begun chatterin to theyselfs, when Saddamn's voice come over the tank's loudspeaker, tellin the guards to lay down they automatic weapons an put they hands up. They done as they was tole, an as soon as they did, ole Sue pop up out of the hatch an motion for me an Sergeant Kranz to hurry over an get in the tank. Soon as we had, ole Sue lifted up the slop bucket an thowed the whole load of shit right in the guards' faces, an we took off at top speed. In the dust behind us, we could see the guards all gaggin an flailin aroun an holdin they noses. Inside the tank, Dan is drivin with one hand an holdin a pistol to Saddamn Hussein's head with the other.

"Forrest," he says, handin me the pistol, "take over an keep this sombitch covered. An if he makes any false moves, blow his ass away."

Saddamn Hussein is one unhappy bastid, an he is cussin an cryin an callin up to his Allah.

"We got to get us some damn gas or this whole scheme is gonna be foiled," Dan says.

"What scheme?" I ast.

"To deliver this goddamn sand wog back to General Scheisskopf so's he can thow him under the jail - or even better, line his ass up against the wall like he did to us."

By this time Saddamn Hussein is got his hands folded together an is tryin to get down on the floor of the tank an is prayin an beggin us for mercy an all that kind of shit.

"Make him be quiet," Dan says. "He is disturbin my concentration. Besides," he says, "the bastid is stingy. When I asked him if I could have a last meal of some fried oysters, he claimed he didn't have any. Whoever heard of a man that runs a whole country couldn't get himself some oysters if he wanted to?"

Just about then, Dan slams on the brakes of the tank.

"Here's a damn BP station," he says, an starts backin the tank around to one of the pumps. A A-rab guy comes out to see what's goin on, an Sergeant Kranz pops out of the hatch an motions for him to fill up our tank. The A-rab guy is shakin his head an chatterin away an trying to wave us off when I snatched up Saddamn Hussein an lifted his head out of the hatch, too, with the pistol still pointed at it.

At this, the A-rab guy shut up an got a kind of astonished look on his face. Saddamn Hussein is now sort of grinnin an pleadin, an this time when Sergeant Kranz motions for the A-rab to fill up the tank, he does what he is tole.

Meantime, Dan says we got to get a better disguise for the tank, account of we is gonna have to drive back through the whole damn A-rab army, which is headed this way. He suggests we go find a Iraqi flag an tie it on our radio antenna, which is not hard to do, since there is about one billion Iraqi flags draped all over Baghdad.

So that's what we done. With me, Lieutenant Dan, Sue, Sergeant Kranz, an Saddamn Hussein tucked away inside the tank, we headed off to find our way home, so to speak.

One good thing about the desert is that it is flat. It is also hot, an with five people inside the tank it is even hotter. Everbody was sort of complainin about this when all of a sudden we got somethin else to complain about, namely the whole damn A-rab army appeared on the horizon, headed right for us.

"What we gonna do now?" Sergeant Kranz ast.

"Fake it," Dan says.

"How you gonna do that?" I ast.

"Just watch me an marvel," says Lieutenant Dan.

He keeps headin the tank toward the whole damn A-rab army until I think he means to smash into it an get us kilt. But that is not Dan's plan. Just about the time we are fixin to collide with the A-rab tanks, Dan slams on the brakes an wheels our tank around like we was joinin the A-rabs. I reckon they are so scared from whatever it was General Scheisskopf had done to them, they ain't worrin none about us. Anyhow, soon as we got in line with the A-rab tanks, Dan pulls on the throttle an slows us down, so that the A-rabs go on past an we are finally left settin in the desert all alone.

"Now," Dan says, pointin at Saddamn Hussein, "let's get this Kuwait-invadin bastid to higher headquarters."

From there on, it seemed like smooth sailin, at least till we got near our own lines. Then Dan say it is time to "reveal ourselfs." He stopped the tank an tole me an Sergeant Kranz to go out an get rid of the Iraqi flag an scrape the mud off the American flag on the side of the tank - so that's what we done. And let me say this: It was the first time in all the mud scrapin I had done that I actually felt like I was accomplishin somethin. Turns out, it was the last time, too.

Well, with our American flag all shiny an bright on the side of the tank, we got through the American lines all right. On the way we done drove through big ole clouds of smoke from where Saddamn Hussein had ordered his men to blow up all the awl wells in Kuwait. It struck us all as a very sour grapes thing to do. Inside our lines, we ast some MPs for directions to General Scheisskopf's headquarters. We found it okay after about five hours of drivin around in circles, after which Sergeant Kranz remarked that givin directions is not the MPs' strong suit, but arrestin people is - to which Dan responded that "Gump is livin proof" of that.

Me an Sergeant Kranz gone on into the general's headquarters to tell him what we has got out in our tank. Inside, General Scheisskopf is givin a big press briefin on the day's activities, an all the cameras are whirlin an flashbulbs are goin off. He is showin the reporters some footage from a camera inside the nose of one of our jet fighters as it dived down on a bridge an dropped a bomb to blow it up. Just ahead of where the bomb went off was a tank hightailin it across the bridge, which barely escaped to the other side when the bridge collapsed.

"An you see here," says General Scheisskopf, pointin at the tank with his ruler, "looking through his rearview mirror, is the luckiest man in the whole damn A-rab army!" At this, everbody in the room got a big chuckle, cept for mysef an Sergeant Kranz, who were horrified, account of that picture was of us when we crossed over that bridge!

Anyhow, we did not tell this to anybody, because it would spoil General Scheisskopf's story, so we waited till he was finished an then Sergeant Kranz gone up to him an whispered in his ear. The general, who is a big ole jolly-lookin feller, got a sort of weird look on his face, an the sergeant whispered in his ear again, an the general's eyes done bugged out an he grapped Sergeant Kranz by the arm an had him lead him outside. Me, I follered along.

When we got to the tank, General Scheisskopf climbed up an stuck his head down the hatch. Few moments later he jerked back up again. "Jesus God!" he said, an jumped down on the ground.

Meantime, Dan hoisted hissef out of the hatch an set down on the deck of the tank, an Sue, he done come out, too. While we was in the headquarters Dan an Sue had tied up Saddamn Hussein hand an foot an to keep him from blabberin so much had stuck a gag in his mouth.

"I don't know what in hell happened here," says the general, "but you boys have screwed up royally."

"Huh?" says Sergeant Kranz, forgettin his manners for a moment.

"Don't you understand it is against my orders to capture Saddamn Hussein?"

"What you mean, sir?" ast Dan. "He's the head enemy. He is why we is fightin over here, ain't he?"

"Well, er, yes. But my orders come directly from the President of the United States - George Herbert Walker Bush."

"But, sir..." starts Sergeant Kranz.

"My orders," says the general, kinda lookin around to make sure nobody is watchin, "were specifically not to capture that butthole you got in that tank. And now what have you done? You're gonna get my ass in a sling with the President himself!"

"Well, General," Dan says, "we're sorry about that. We didn't know. But, I mean, we got him now, don't we? I mean, what are we gonna do with him?"

"Take him back," says the general.

"Take him back!" we all shout.

General Scheisskopf wave his hands for us not to be so loud.

"But, sir," say Sergeant Kranz, "you gotta understand that we was within a inch of our lifes tryin to bring him here. It ain't easy bein the only American tank in Baghdad in the middle of a war."

"Yeah," says Dan. "An what's worse, the whole damn A-rab army is now back in Baghdad, just waitin for us."

"Well, boys," the general says, "I know how you feel, but orders is orders, an I'm orderin you to take him back."

"But, sir," I says, "maybe can't we just leave him out in the desert an let him find his own way back?"

"Much as I'd like to, that would be inhumane," General Scheisskopf says piously. "Tell you what though, just get him within four or five miles of Baghdad - so's he can see it himself, an then turn his ass loose."

"Four or five miles!" we all shouted. But like the man said, orders was orders.

Anyway, we gassed up an got somethin to eat at the chow tent an saddled up the tank for our return trip. By this time it was gettin night, but we Jiggered at least it might not be so hot. Sergeant Kranz brought Saddamn Hussein a big ole plate of greasy pork chops, but he say he don't care for any, so hungry or not, off we went.

It was quite a spectacle out in the desert, which was lit up like a stadium from all the awl fires burnin. We made pretty good time though, considerin havin to dodge all the junk left over from the whole damn A-rab army. Seems that while they was occupying Kuwait, they had also occupied some of the Kuwait people's things - like their furniture an their Mercedes-Benzes an such, but when they left in such a hurry, they didn't bother to take them with them.

The ride back to Baghdad was actually kind of borin, an to pass the time I took the gag out of ole Saddamn's mouth to see what he had to say. When I tole him we was takin him home, he begun to cry an shout an pray again cause he figgered we was lyin an was gonna kill him. But finally we settled him down an he begun to believe us, though he could not understand why we was doin this. Lieutenant Dan tole him it was a "gesture of goodwill."

I piped up an tole Saddamn I was friends with the Ayatolja Koumani, an in fact had once transacted some bidness with him.

"That ole fart," Saddamn says, "he has caused me a lot of trouble. I hope he roasts in hell an has to eat tripe an pickled pigs' feet for the rest of eternity."

"I can see you are a man of great Christian charity," says Lieutenant Dan.

To this, Saddamn has no response.

Pretty soon, we could see the lights of Baghdad in the distance. Dan slowed down the tank to hide the noise.

"Well, that's about five miles, as I make it," says Dan.

"It is not," says Saddamn. "It's more like seven or eight."

"That's your tough luck, buster. We got other shit to do, so this is as far as you go."

With that, Sergeant Kranz an me hoisted Saddamn out of the tank. Then Sergeant Kranz, he made Saddamn take off all his clothes, except for his boots an his little beret. Then he pointed him at Baghdad.

"On your way, you degenerate turd," says Sergeant Kranz, an he give ole Saddamn a big kick in the ass. Last we seen of him, he was joggin across the desert, tryin to cover hissef in front an behind.

Now we are headed back to Kuwait, an everthin seems to be goin smoothly, more or less. Though I am missin little Forrest, at least me an Lieutenant Dan an Sue is back together again, an besides, I figger my army hitch is almost up.

It is almost pitch black dark inside the tank an ain't no sounds cept the noise of the engine, an the instrument panels is glowin faint red in the dark.

"Well, Forrest, I reckon we have seen our last war," says Dan.

"I hope so," I says.

"War is not a pretty thing," he goes on, "but when the time comes to fight it, it is us who have to go. We are the professional army. The shit-shovelers in peacetime, but it's 'Tommy get yer rifle, when the drums begin to beat...' Saviors of your country an all that crap."

"Well, maybe that's true of you an Sergeant Kranz," I says, "but me an Sue, here, we are peace-lovin folks."

"Yeah, but when the balloon goes up, you're there every time," says Dan. "And don't you think I don't appreciate it."

"I'll sure be glad when we're home," I says.

"Uh oh," Dan says.

"What?"

"I said, 'Uh oh.' " He is staring into the instrument screen.

"Whassamatter?" ast Sergeant Kranz.

"We locked on to."

"What? Who?"

"Somebody's got us locked on. Aircraft. I imagine it must be one of ours."

"One of ours?"

"Yeah, they ain't got any Iraqi air force left."

"But why?" I ast.

"Uh oh!" Dan says again.

"What?"

"They have fired!"

"At us?"

"Who else," Dan says. He had begun to spin the tank aroun when there is a huge explosion that literally blew the tank apart. All of us is thowed ever which way, an the cabin is filled with smoke an fire.

"Out! Out!" Dan screams, an I pulled mysef out the hatch an reached back for Sergeant Kranz right behind me. He come out an I reached for ole Sue, but he was lyin in back of the cabin, hurt an pinned down by somethin. So I leaned in to grap Dan, but he can't reach my hand. For a instant we looked in each other's eyes, an he says, "Damn, Forrest, we almost made it..."

"C'mon, Dan!" I shout. The flames is all over the cabin by now an the smoke thicker an thicker. I kep reachin way down to get him, but it wadn't no use. He kinda smiled an looked up at me. "Well, Forrest, we have had ourselfs a hell of a war, haven't we?"

"Hurry, Dan, grap holt of my hand," I screamed.

"See you around, pal" is all he says, an then the tank blowed up.

It blowed me in the air an singed me up a little, otherwise I was not much hurt. I couldn't believe it, though. I got up an just stood there, watchin the tank burn up. I wanted to go back an try to get em out, but I knew it wadn't no good. Me an the sergeant, we waited a while, until the tank had burned itself out, an then he says, "Well, c'mon, Gump. We got a long walk home."

All the way back across the desert that night I felt so terrible I couldn't even bring mysef to cry. Two of the best friends a man ever had - an now they are gone, too. It is a loneliness almost too sad to believe.

They had a little service for Lieutenant Dan an Sue at the air base where our fighter planes was. I couldn't help but think that one of them pilots was responsible for all this, but I guess he must of felt pretty bad about it hissef. After all, we wadn't sposed to of been out there, cept we had to return Saddamn to Baghdad.

They had a pair of flag-covered caskets lined up on the tarmac, an they shimmered in the heat of the mornin. Wadn't anythin in em, though. Fact was, they wadn't enough left of Dan an Sue to fill a can of beans.

Sergeant Kranz an me was in the little group, an one time he turned to me an says, "Ya know, Gump, them was good soldiers, them two. Even the ape. It never showed no fear."

"Probly too dumb to understand it," I says.

"Yeah, probly. Kinda like you, huh?"

"I spose."

"Well, I'm gonna miss em," Sergeant Kranz says. "We had ourselfs a helluva ride."

"Yup," I says, "I reckon."

After a chaplain said a little somethin, they had a band that played taps an a rifle squad that fired a twelve-gun salute. An then it was over.

Afterward, General Scheisskopf come up an put his arm aroun my shoulder. I guess he could see I was finally beginnin to get little bitty tears in my eyes.

"I'm sorry about this, Private Gump," he says.

"So's everbody else," I tole him.

"Look, these fellers was friends of yours, I understand. We couldn't find any military records on them."

"They was volunteers," I said.

"Well," says the general, "maybe you'd want to take these." One of his aides come up with two little cans, got tiny plastic American flags pasted on the tops.

"Our graves registration people thought it would be appropriate," General Scheisskopf says.

I took the cans an thanked the general, though I don't know what for, an then I gone on off to find my outfit. Time I got back, the company clerk was lookin for me.

"Where you been, Gump? I got important news."

"It's a long story," I says.

"Well, guess what? You ain't in the army no more."

"That so?"

"Sure is. Somebody done figgered out you got a criminal record - hell, you wadn't sposed to of ever been let in this man's army in the first place!"

"So what I'm sposed to do now?" I ast.

"Pack up your shit an get the hell out of here" was his answer.

So that's what I done. I found out I was due to leave on a plane that night for the States. Didn't even have time to change my clothes. I put the little cans with Sue's and Dan's ashes in my pack an signed out for the last time. When I got on the plane, it was only half full. I got me a seat in the back, by mysef, cause my clothes, well, they had the stink of death on em, an I was embarrassed of the way I smelled. We was flyin high over the desert, an the moon was full an the clouds was silver all over the horizon. It was dark inside the plane an I begun to feel terribly alone an downcasted, when all of a sudden I look over at the seat across the aisle, an there is Jenny, just settin there, lookin at me! She is got a kind of sad expression on her face, too, an this time, she don't say nothin, but just looks at me an smiles.

I couldn't hep it. I reached out for her, but she waved me off. But also, she stayed there in the seat across the aisle, I reckon to keep me company, all the way home.

    

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