Chapter Seven

I was at the hospital at Danang for most of two months. So far as a hospital went, it were not much, but we slep on cots with mosquito nets, an they was wooden plank floors that was swep clean twice a day, which was more than you can say for the kind of livin I'd got used to.

They was some people hurt far worst than I was in that hospital, let me tell you. Po ole boys with arms an legs an feet an hans an who knows what else missin. Boys what had been shot in they stomachs an chests an faces. At night the place sound like a torture chamber - them fellers be howlin and cryin an callin for they mamas.

They was a guy nex to my cot name of Dan, who had been blowed up inside a tank. He was all burnt an had tubes goin in an out of him everplace, but I never heard him holler. He talk real low an quiet, an after a day or so, him an me got to be friends. Dan come from the state of Connecticut, an he were a teacher of history when they grapped him up an thowed him into the Army. But cause he was smart, they sent him to officer school an made him a lieutenant. Most of the lieutenants I knowed was bout as simple-minded as me, but Dan were different. He have his own philosophy bout why we was there, which was that we was doin maybe the wrong thing for the right reasons, or visa-versa, but whatever it is, we ain't doin it right. Him bein a tank officer an all, he say it rediculous for us to be wagin a war in a place where we can't hardly use our tanks on account of the land is mostly swamp or mountains. I tole him bout Bubba an all, an he nod his head very sadly an say they will be a lot more Bubbas to die afore this thing is over.

After bout a week or so, they move me to another part of the hospital where everbody be put so's they can get well, but ever day I gone back to the tensive care ward an set for a wile with Dan. Sometimes I played him a tune on my harmonica, which he like very much. My mama had sent me a package of Hershey bars which finally catch up to me at the hospital an I wanted to share them with Dan, cept he can't eat nothin but what goin into him thru the tubes.

I think that settin there talkin to Dan was a thing that had a great impression on my life. I know that bein a idiot an all, I ain't sposed to have no philosophy of my own, but maybe it's just because nobody never took the time to talk to me bout it. It were Dan's philosophy that everythin that happen to us, or for that matter, to anythin anywhere, is controlled by natural laws that govern the universe. His views on the subject was extremely complicated, but the gist of what he say begun to change my whole outlook on things.

All my own life, I ain't understood shit about what was goin on. A thing jus happen, then somethin else happen, then somethin else, an so on, an haf the time nothin makin any sense. But Dan say it is all part of a scheme of some sort, an the best way we can get along is figger out how we fits into the scheme, an then try to stick to our place. Somehow knowin this, things get a good bit clearer for me.

Anyhow, I's gettin much better in the next weeks, an my ass heal up real nice. Doctor say I got a hide like a "rhinoceros" or somethin. They got a rec room at the hospital an since they wadn't much else to do, I wandered over there one day an they was a couple of guys playin ping-pong. After a wile, I axed if I could play, an they let me. I lost the first couple of points, but after a wile, I beat both them fellers. "You shore is quick for such a big guy," one of them say. I jus nod. I tried to play some ever day an got quite good, believe it or not.

In the afternoons I'd go see Dan, but in the mornins I was on my own. They let me leave the hospital if I wanted, an they was a bus what took fellers like me into the town so's we could walk aroun an buy some of the shit they sold in the gook shops in Danang. But I don't need any of that, so I jus walk aroun, taking in the sights.

They is a little market down by the waterfront where folks sells fish an srimp an stuff, an one day I went down there an bought me some srimp an one of the cooks at the hospital boil em for me an they sure was good. I wished ole Dan could of ate some. He say maybe if I squash em up they could put em down his tube. He say he gonna axe the nurse about it, but I know he jus kiddin.

That night I be lyin on my cot thinkin of Bubba an how much he might of liked them srimp too, an about our srimp boat an all. Po ole Bubba. So the next day I axed Dan how is it that Bubba can get kilt, an what kind of haf-assed nature law would allow that. He think bout it for a wile, an say, "Well, I'll tell you, Forrest, all of these laws are not specially pleasing to us. But they is laws nonetheless. Like when a tiger pounce on a monkey in the jungle - bad for the monkey, but good for the tiger. That is jus the way it is."

Couple of days later I gone on back to the fish market an they is a little gook sellin a big bag of srimp there. I axed him where he got them srimp, an he start jabberin away at me, count of he don't understan English. Anyway, I make sign language like a Indian or somethin, an after a wile he catch on, an motion for me to follow him. I be kind of leary at first, but he smilin an all, an so's I do.

We must of walked a mile or so, past all the boats on the beach an everthin, but he don't take me to a boat. It is a little place in a swamp by the water, kind of a pond or somethin, an he got wire nets laid down where the water from the China Sea come in at high tide. That sumbitch be growin srimp in there! He took a little net an scoop up some water an sure enough, ten or twelve srimp in it. He give me some in a little bag, an I give him a Hershey bar. He so happy he could shit.

That night they is a movie outdoors near Field Force Headquarters an I go on over there, cep'n some fellers in the front row start a great big fight over somethin an somebody get hissef heaved through the screen an that be the end of the movie. So afterwards, I be layin on my cot, thinkin, an suddenly it come to me. I know what I gotta do when they let me out of the Army! I goin home an find me a little pond near the Gulf an raise me some srimp! So maybe I can't get me a srimp boat now that Bubba is gone, but I sure can go up in one of them marshes an get me some wire nets an that's what I'll do. Bubba would of like that.

Ever day for the next few weeks I go down in the mornin to the place where the little gook is growin his srimp. Mister Chi is his name. I jus set there an watched him an after a wile he showed me how he was doin it. He'd catched some baby srimps aroun the marshes in a little han net, an dump them in his pond. Then when the tide come in he thowed all sorts of shit in there - scraps and stuff, which cause little teensey slimy things to grow an the srimps eat them an get big an fat. It was so simple even a imbecile could do it.

A few days later some muckity-mucks from Field Force Headquarters come over to the hospital all excited an say, "Private Gump, you is been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for extreme heroism, an is bein flown back to the U.S.A. day after tomorrow to be decorated by the President of the United States." Now that was early in the mornin an I had jus been lyin there, thinkin about going to the bathroom, but here they are, expectin me to say somethin, I guess, an I'm bout to bust my britches. But this time I jus say, "Thanks," an keep my big mouth shut. Perhaps it be in the natural scheme of things.

Anyhow, after they is gone, I go on over to the tensive care ward to see Dan, but when I git there, his cot is empty, an the mattress all folded up an he is gone. I am so scant somethin has happen to him, an I run to fine the orderly, but he ain't there either. I seen a nurse down the hall an I axed her, "What happen to Dan," an she say he "gone." An I say, "Gone where?" an she say, "I don't know, it didn't happen on my shif." I foun the head nurse an axe her, an she say Dan been flown back to America on account of they can take better care of him there. I axed her if he is okay, an she say, "Yeah, if you can call two punctured lungs, a severed intestin, spinal separation, a missing foot, a truncated leg, an third degree burns over haf the body okay, then he is jus fine." I thanked her, an went on my way.

I didn't play no ping-pong that afternoon, cause I was so worried bout Dan. It come to me that maybe he went an died, an nobody want to say so, cause of that bidness bout notifying nex of kin first, or somethin. Who knows? But I am down in the dumps, an go wanderin aroun by mysef, kickin rocks an tin cans an shit.

When I finally get back to my ward, there is some mail lef on my bed for me that finally catch up with me here. My mama have sent a letter sayin that our house done caught on fire, an is totally burnt up, an there is no insurance or nothin an she is gonna have to go to the po house. She say the fire begun when Miss French had washed her cat an was dryin it with a hair dryer, an either the cat or the hair dryer caught afire, an that was that. From now on, she say, I am to send my letters to her in care of the "Little Sisters of the Po." I figger there will be many tears in the years to come.

They is another letter addressed to me which say, "Dear Mister Gump: You has been chosen to win a bran new Pontiac GTO, if only you will send back the enclosed card promising to buy a set of these wonderful encyclopedias an a updated yearbook every year for the rest of your life at a $75 per year." I thowed that letter in the trash. What the hell would a idiot like me want with encyclopedias anyway, an besides, I can't drive.

But the third letter is personally writ to me an on the back of the envelope it say, "J. Curran, General Delivery, Cambridge, Mass." My hans is shakin so bad, I can hardly open it.

"Dear Forrest," it say, "My mama has forwarded your letter to me that your mama gave to her, and I am so sorry to hear that you have to fight in that terrible immoral war." She say she know how horrible it must be, with all the killin an maimin goin on an all. "It must tax your conscience to be involved, although I know you are being made to do it against your will." She write that it must of been awful not to have no clean clothes an no fresh food, an all, but that she do not understand what I mean when I wrote about "havin to lie face-down in officer shit for two days."

"It is hard to believe," she say, "that even they would make you do such a vulgar thing as that." I think I could of explained that part a little better.

Anyhow, Jenny say that "We are organizing large demonstrations against the fascist pigs in order to stop the terrible immoral war and let the people be heard." She go on bout that for a page or so, an it all soundin sort of the same. But I read it very carefully anyway, for jus to see her hanwritin is enough to make my stomach turn flip-flops.

"At least," she say at the end, "you have met up with Bubba, and I know you are glad to have a friend in your misery." She say to give Bubba her best, an add in a p.s. that she is earnin a little money by playin in a little musical band a couple of nights a week at a coffeehouse near the Harvard University, an if ever I get up that way to look her up. The group, she say, is called The Cracked Eggs. From then on, I be lookin for some excuse to get to Harvard University.

That night I am packin up my shit to go back home to get my Medal of Honor an meet the President of the United States. However, I do not have nothin to pack cept my pajaymas an the toothbrush an razor they have gave me at the hospital, cause everthin else I own is back at the firebase at Pleiku. But there is this nice lieutenant colonel that has been sent over from Field Force, an he say, "Forgit all that shit, Gump - we is gonna have a bran new tailor-made uniform sewn up for you this very night by two dozen gooks in Saigon, on account of you cannot meet the President wearin your pajaymas." The colonel say he is gonna accompany me all the way to Washington, an see to it that I have got a place to stay an food to eat an a ride to wherever we is going an also will tell me how to behave an all.

Colonel Gooch is his name.

That night I get into one last ping-pong match with a feller from the headquarters company of Field Force, who is sposed to be the best ping-pong player in the Army or somesuch as that. He is a little wiry feller who refuse to look me in the eye, an also, he bring his own paddle in a leather case. When I be whippin his ass he stop an say the ping-pong balls ain't no good cause the humidity done ruint them. Then he pack up his paddle an go on home, which be okay with me, cause he lef the ping-pong balls he brung, an they could really use them at the hospital rec room.

The morning I was to leave, a nurse come in an lef a envelope with my name written on it. I open it up, an it was a note from Dan, who is okay after all, an had this to say:

Dear Forrest,

I am sorry there was no time for us to see each other before I left. The doctors made their decision quickly, and before I knew it, I was being taken away, but I asked if I could stop long enough to write you this note, because you have been so kind to me while I was here.

I sense, Forrest, that you are on the verge of something very significant in your life, some change, or event that will move you in a different direction, and you must seize the moment, and not let it pass. When I think back on it now, there is something in your eyes, some tiny flash of fire that comes now and then, mostly when you smile, and, on those infrequent occasions, I believe what I saw was almost a Genesis of our ability as humans to think, to create, to be.

This war is not for you, old pal - nor me - and I am well out of it as I'm sure you will be in time. The crucial question is, what will you do? I don't think you're an idiot at all. Perhaps by the measure of tests or the judgment of fools, you might fall into some category or other, but deep down, Forrest, I have seen that glowing sparkle of curiosity burning deep in your mind. Take the tide, my friend, and as you are carried along, make it work for you, fight the shallows and the snags and never give in, never give up. You are a good fellow, Forrest, and you have a big heart.

Your Pal,


I read over Dan's letter ten or twenty times, an there is things in it I do not understand. I mean, I think I see what he is gettin at, but there is sentences an words that I cannot figger out. Next morning Colonel Gooch come in an say we got to go now, first to Saigon to get me the new uniform that done been sewn up by the twenty gooks last night, then right off to the United States an all that. I shown him Dan's letter an axed him to tell me what exactly it means, an Colonel Gooch look it over an han it back an say, "Well, Gump, it is pretty plain to me he means that you had better the hell not fuck up when the President pins the medal on you."