Previous Table Next

Page 11

Chapter 11

Wellsir, Gretchen an me caught a train back to Oogamooga or whatever it is that we lived, an when I got to the post, a surprise was in store for me. The post commander done took me off tank tread cleanin duty an put me on permanent latrine duty, right out of No Time for Sergeants.

He is furious because, as he say, what I have done is probably put him out of a job.

"Gump, you moron," shouts the post commander, "do you realize what has happened because of your screw-ups? The Germans have torn down their wall and now everbody's talkin about the end of communism!

"Just look at what The New York Times has to say about this!" he hollers, and hands me the paper.

Dimwit Secures End of Cold War, says the headline.

What was apparently an accidental football punting mistake has led to what some experts believe will be the end of the nearly fifty-year-long breach between the East and West.

Sources told the Times that a U.S. Army private named Forrest Gump allegedly miskicked a football during an interservice playoff game in Germany, yesterday, which sailed across the Berlin Wall and landed in midfield on East German territory during the final seconds of the World Cup soccer match between East Germany and the Soviet Union.

The sources said that Mr. Gump then scaled the wall to retrieve the errant football, which had by that time created a disturbance in the soccer match. Irate soccer fans, estimated at 85,000 to 100,000 strong, then proceeded to chase Mr. Gump, with the apparent intention of doing him bodily harm.

Mr. Gump, who has been described as mentally retarded, fled back to the wall and began to climb over into West German territory. Sources said the soccer fans, in their efforts to apprehend Mr. Gump, pursued him across the wall and in the process began to dismantle the barrier which has stood as a symbol of Communist oppression for several decades.

Subsequently, joyous Berliners of all political persuasions joined hands in tearing down the wall and ultimately held what sources described as "the world's largest free-floating street party and beer bash."

In the confusion, Mr. Gump apparently escaped unharmed.

The final score of the East Berlin-Soviet Union soccer match was a 3 to 3 tie. The score of the American football game at the time of its disruption was not immediately available.

"Gump, you numbnuts," the post commander says, "we got no more communism, we got no more reason to be here! Even the goddamn Russians are talkin about givin up communism! Who in hell are we gonna fight if we ain't got the communists to fight? You have rendered this whole army superfluous! Now they will send our asses home to some godforsaken post in Palookaville and we will lose the best duty we could of dreamed of, which is right here in a quaint village in the German Alps! Gump, you have destroyed a soldier's dream - you must be out of your mind!"

He goes on like that for a while, poundin on his desk an thowin shit around the headquarters, but I get the drift of what his argument is, an it ain't doin much good to argue with it. Anyway, I gone on down to the latrine an assumed my new duties, which is to constantly scrub ever tile with a toothbrush an some bathroom cleanser. Sergeant Kranz, for his association with me, is given the task of wipin up behind me with Spic and Span, an he is none too happy about that, neither.

"We never had it so good, cleanin them tank treads" is the way he puts it.

Once a week, on Sundays, I get a pass to go into town, but the post commander have ordered two MPs to escort me everwhere I go, an to not let me out of their sight. This, of course, makes it somewhat hard for me to have a decent relationship with Gretchen, but we done the best we could. It was now generally too cold to go on picnics up in the mountains, as the Alps become chilly in the winter. Most of the time, we gone into the beer hall an set at a table an just held hands while the MPs was glarin at us from nearby.

Gretchen is really a nice person, an does not wish to spend the rest of her life as a beer maid, but she don't know what else to do. She is very beautiful, but say she thinks life's done pretty much passed her by.

"I am too old to be a model," she says, "und too young to give up on everything else. Maybe I'll go to university. I want to make something of myself."

"Yeah," I says, "that would be good. I went to the university once."

"Ja, Forrest? Und what did you study?"

"Football," I says.


Good things, as my mama Gump used to say, are not meant to last forever, an this was no exception.

It wadn't before too long when the post commander called us all to the parade ground, an made an announcement.

"Men, there is the good news and the bad news."

At this, they was some low mumblin from the troops.

"The bad news," he says, "is for those of you cowards who are just drawin your pay and do not wish to perform your duties as soldiers."

They was some more mumblin.

"The good news is, for those of you who wish to start killin an dyin - which, if you din't know, is your bidness - you are gonna be afforded ever opportunity - thanks to some sombitch called Saddamn Hussein, who is the A-rab in charge of Iraq, an who has now started a war with our own commander-in-chief, the United States of America President George Herbert Walker Bush."

At this, some of the mumblin turned to cheerin.

"And," the commander says, "we are all gonna go over to Iraq an whip his heathen ass!"

So that's what we did.

The night before we left I got a pass to go see Gretchen for a last time. She has just saved up enough money to enter the university, an in fact is takin her first classes. I waited outside the schoolroom for her to come out.

"Oh, Forrest," she says, "it is so wonderful! I am studying English!"

We helt hands an walked for a while, an then I tole her what was goin on. She didn't scream or carry on or nothin, she just hugged my arm tighter an said she figgered this kind of thing would happen one day.

"All my life," Gretchen says, "I have learned not to depend on good things happening, but I still always hope they will. One day you will come back, ja?"

"Ja," I tole her, but I didn't know if it was the truth or not. After all, things don't seem to work out too good in my life, neither.

"When you come back," Gretchen says, "I will be speaking English as well as you."

"Ja," I says.

Anyhow, next mornin we left Germany.

First, we loaded up all our stuff, which was tanks an self-propelled guns an things, an flowed off to Saudi Arabia. When we arrived there, our division was eighteen thousan strong. Added to the rest of our army, we is about a million against twice as many A-rabs, which our leader, General Norman Scheisskopf, says should make for a fair fight.

Saddamn an his A-rab army are occupyin the little country of Kuwait, which was known mostly for havin a bunch of awl wells. Matter of fact, they was enough awl in Kuwait to run the entire United States of America for ten years - which I spose was why we is here. We is fixin to thow them out, so's we can keep the awl.

The one thing that stood out in my mind about Saudi Arabia was sand an dust. They was mountains of sand an dust everwhere we went. Got in your eyes an ears an nose an clothes, an soon as you'd wash it out, more dust an sand would come along. Somebody says the army have trucked in the dust an sand just so's we would not get to feelin too comfortable before we had to fight Saddamn Hussein.

Since there is no latrine here except a hole in the ground, Sergeant Kranz an me have been returned to our duty cleanin tank treads, although this time it is not mud, but sand an dust we have to get out. Everday me an the sergeant be whiskin out the treads, which of course are just as dirty in five minutes than they ever were.

Anyway, one day we all get some time off an go into town.

The men are unhappy account of in Saudi Arabia they is virtually no whisky or women. In fact, whisky an women is against the law - well, whisky is anyway, an women might as well be, account of they run aroun inside big ole cloaks so's you can't see nothin but they eyes. The A-rab men wear them cloaks, too, an most of em have on them little shoes with toes that curl up at the ends. Somebody says that is because when they is out in the desert an gotta take a shit, they can grap ahold of the ends of the shoes when they bend over an it keeps them on balance. Whatever.

Anyhow, I am figgerin that long as I am here in the bazaar, I might as well send another present to little Forrest so's he don't think I have dropped off the edge of the earth. I gone into one of the shops an am lookin around at all the shit when the shopkeeper come up an ast what I want. I tole him a present for my son, an his eyes lighted up. He disappeared behind a ole curtin to the back of the store an reappear with a dusty wood box, which he laid out on the counter. When he open it up, I see inside a big shiny knife.

The shopkeeper very carefully run his fingers over the handle of the knife, which is black wood with a bunch of jewels set into it. It is a curved knife, with a fat blade that is inscribed with all sorts of fancy Arab writin.

"This was the dirk that our great liberator, Saladin the Magnificent, wore when he defeated the European crusaders in the twelfth century!" says the shopkeeper. "It is priceless!"

"Yeah?" I says. "So how do I know how much it cost?"

"For you," he says, "nineteen ninety-five."

So I gone on an bought it, thinkin there must be a catch - like maybe the note I wanted to send with it was gonna be a thousan bucks, but it wadn't. In fact, the feller says he will ship it to the U.S. free of charge. I figgered you can't beat that, an wrote little Forrest, tellin him the history of the knife that the shopkeeper tole me, an I warned him it was so sharp it would cut paper, so not to be rubbin his fingers on it. I just knew he was gonna go bananas when he got it.

Meantime, me an the guys continued walkin down the streets, everbody sort of grousin since they is really nothin to do but buy souvenirs an drink coffee. We gone down a bunch of dark ole alleys, where folks are sellin everthin from bananas to Band-Aids, when I seen somethin that sort of makes me stop. They is a little sunshade laid out with poles in the dirt, an under it is a feller drinkin from a big ole jar of Kool-Aid, an playin a hurdy-gurdy. I can't see his face right away, but on the end of a rope he is holdin there is a big ole orangutang that looks pretty familiar. The orangutang is doin dances, an the man has a tin cup on the ground in front of him an, basically, he is a beggar.

I walked up closer, an the orangutang kind of looks at me funny for a second an then jumped up into my arms. It weighs so much, it knocked me flat on the ground, an when I looked up, I am starin into the face of ole Sue, from the good ole days when I was a spaceman back in New Guinea. Sue be clackin his teeth an givin me big ole slobbery kisses an chatterin an whimperin.

"Take your hands off that ape," a voice says, an guess what? I looked over under the little sunshade an who do I see settin there but good ole Lieutenant Dan! I was so surprised, I like to of fainted.

"Great God!" says Lieutenant Dan. "Is that you, Gump?"

"Yessir," I says. "I reckon it is."

"What in hell are you doing here?" he says.

"I reckon I could ast you that same question" was my reply.

Lieutenant Dan, he is lookin a good deal healthier than the last time I seen him. That was even after Colonel North got him put in the Walter Reed Army Hospital. They has somehow got rid of his cough an he has put on weight an there is a luster to his eyes that was not there before.

"Well, Gump," he says, "I read in the newspapers you ain't wasted no time stayin in the doghouse. You done tricked the Ayatolja, got thowed in jail for contemptin the Congress, caused a riot down at some religious theme park, got arrested an put on trial for swindling millions of people, was responsible for the greatest single maritime environmental disaster of the world, an somehow managed to put an end to communism in Europe. All in all, I'd say you've had a fair few years."

"Yup," I says, "that's about the size of it."

All the while, Lieutenant Dan has been tryin to improve hissef. At first he done almost give up when he got to Walter Reed, but the doctors finally persuaded him he had a few more good years left. He got his army pension bidness straightened out, an so he don't quite have to live from hand to mouth anymore. He traveled around for a while, mostly on military aircraft, which the pension entitles him to do, an which is also how he got here to Saudi Arabia.

One time a while back, he says, he was in New Orleans, just to take in the sights from the days when we lived there an to get him some good oysters on the half shell. He says that unlike most places, it ain't changed a whole lot. One day he was settin in Jackson Square, where I used to play my one-man band, when lo an behole, along comes a ape that he recognized as Sue. Sue had been supportin hissef by kinda taggin along behind the fellers that was singin or dancin for money in the streets, an had learned to do a little dance hissef. Then, when everbody done thowed enough money in the tin cups, Sue would grap what he thought was his share an haul ass.

Anyhow, the two of them teamed up, an Sue would push Dan around town in a little grocery cart, account of his artificial legs still bothered him pretty much, although he still carries them around.

"If I need em, I'll put em on," Dan says, "but frankly it's easier just sittin on my ass."

"I still don't understand why you is here," I says.

"Cause it's a war goin on, Forrest. My family ain't missed a war in nine generations, an I ain't gonna be the one to change that record."

Lieutenant Dan says he knows he is technically unfit for military service, but he is sort of hangin around, waitin for his chance to do somethin useful.

When he finds out I'm with a mechanized armored outfit, he is overjoyed.

"That's just what I need - transportation! Legs or no legs, I can kill A-rabs good as anybody else" is how he puts it.

Anyway, we gone over to the Casbah, or whatever they call it, an got Sue a banana, an me an Lieutenant Dan ate soup that had toad larva or somethin in it. "Y'know," he says, "I sure wish these A-rabs had some oysters, but I bet there ain't one within a thousand miles of here."

"What?" I ast. "A-rabs?"

"No, you stupo, oysters," says Dan.

In any case, by the end of the afternoon Dan had talked me into takin him back to my tank company. Before I took him in the compound, I gone to the quartermaster an drawn two more sets of fatigue uniforms, one for Dan an one for Sue. I am figgerin it might take some explainin about ole Sue, but that we would give it a try, anyhow.

As it turned out, nobody much give a shit that Lieutenant Dan has joined us. In fact, some fellers are glad to have him around, since besides Sergeant Kranz an me, he is the only other person in our outfit to have had any real combat experience. Whenever he is in public, Dan now wears the artificial legs, just suckin it up when they hurt him. Says it ain't military to go crawlin around or ridin in a cart. Also, most of the fellers taken a shine to Sue, who has turned into quite a scrounger. Whatever we need to have to steal from somebody else, Sue is the man for the job.

Ever night we set out in front of our tent an watch the Scud missiles that Saddamn Hussein is shooting at us. Most of the time, they is blowed up in the air by our own missiles, an it is all like a big fireworks show, with occasional accidents.

One day the battalion commander come around an call us all together.

"Arright, men," he says. "Tomorrow we gonna saddle up. At dawn, all our jet planes an missiles an artillery an everthin else in our grab bag gonna open up on the A-rabs. Then our asses is gonna hit em so hard in our tanks they will think ole Allah himself has come back to do them in. So get some rest. You gonna be needin it for the next few days."

That night I walked out away from camp a little bit, right to the edge of the desert. I have never seen a sky so clear as over the desert - seemed like every star in the heaven was shinin brighter than ever before. I begun to say a little prayer that nothin would happen to me in the battle, cause for the first time in my life, I got a responsibility to take care of.

That day, I had got a letter from Mrs. Curran, sayin she was gettin too ole an sick to take care of little Forrest. She says she is gonna have to go in the rest home pretty soon, an she is puttin her house up for sale, account of the rest home won't take her unless she's dead broke. Little Forrest, she says, "is gonna have to go live with the state or somethin, until I can figger out what else to do." He is just startin to be a teenager, she says, an is a fine-lookin boy, but is kind of wild sometimes. She say he makes some extra money on weekends by thumbin over to the casinos in Mississippi an countin cards at the blackjack tables, but that most of the casinos done kicked him out, account of he is so smart he can beat them at their own game.

"I really feel sorry about this," Mrs. Curran writes, "but there's nothing else I can do. I'm sure you'll come home soon, Forrest, and everything will be okay."

Well, I feel pretty sorry for Mrs. Curran, too. She done all she could. But my heart don't feel good that I can do anythin to help, even if I do get home in one piece. I mean, look at my record so far. Anyway, I am thinkin about all this when all of a sudden from out of the desert, a kind of whirlwind comes blowin up toward me. It whirled an blew under the clear desert stars, an then, before I knowed it, there was Jenny, shimmerin in the sand an wind. I am so glad to see her after all this time, I am about to bust.

"Well," she says, "looks like you've done it again, huh?"

"Done what?"

"Got your ass in a sling. Aren't you gonna go out an fight the A-rabs tomorrow?"

"Yup, that's what the orders are."

"What if something happens to you?"

"What happens, happens," I said.

"And little Forrest?"

"I been thinkin about that."

"Yeah, I know. But you don't have any plan, do you?"

"Not yet. I gotta get outta this mess, first."

"I know that, too. And I can't tell you what's gonna happen, cause it's against the rules. But I will tell you one thing, though. Stick with Lieutenant Dan. And listen to him. Listen real carefully."

"Oh, I will," I says. "He is the best combat leader there is."

"Well, just pay attention to him, okay?"

I nodded, an then Jenny sort of begun to disappear in the whirlwind. I wanted to call her back, but her face begun to fade, an she says somethin else that was very faint, but I heard it.

"That German girl - I like her." Jenny's voice is almost gone. "She's got spirit, and a good heart..."

I tried to say somethin, but my words caught up in my throat, an then the whirlwind gone on its way, an I am left alone under the desert sky.

I ain't never seen nothin like what I saw next dawn, an I hope I don't ever see it again.

Far as the eye could see out in the desert, from horizon to horizon, our tanks an personnel carriers an mechanized guns is lined up in all directions. All the motors is runnin so's the sound from half a million men an machines is like one big constant growl from a giant tiger. A mad giant tiger.

At daybreak the order is given to move forward an kick Saddamn Hussein's A-rabs' asses out of Kuwait. An that's what we done.

Me an Sergeant Kranz, who has now been promoted to corporal, an Lieutenant Dan are in command of one of the tanks. Also, we has brought ole Sue along for good luck. Now, these tanks is not at all like the tanks we had in Vietnam, which were as simple to run as a tractor. But that was twenty-five years ago. Nosiree, these tanks look like the inside of a spaceship, with all sorts of computers an calculators an electrical stuff flashin an beepin. They even got air-conditionin.

We is in the first wave of attack, an afore long, we has spotted Saddamn Hussein's army in front of us, cept they are goin backwards. Sergeant Kranz done fired a few rounds from our big gun an Lieutenant Dan done pushed the throttle forward to maximum speed. Seems like we is actually skimmin over the desert, an all around us ever tank has opened fire an pretty soon the whole land is alive with big explosions. The noise is frightful, an ole Sue's got his fingers stuck in his ears.

"Wahoooo!" shouts Lieutenant Dan. "Lookit them bastards run!"

It was true. Seems like we is out in front of the whole pack. Ole Saddamn's army is flyin off like a huge covey of quail, leavin everthin behind, vehicles, clothes, stolen cars an furniture from Kuwait. At one point we done crossed a big long bridge an just afore we got to the end of it, one of our own jet planes dives down an blows it in half. We got to the other end in the nick of time, afore the whole thing collapsed down into a gorge!

When I look back through the mirror, I can see we is well ahead of everbody an was about to get on the radio to ast for instructions, when a big ole sandstorm blowed up in the desert in front, an in no time, we was engulfed inside it. Then the radio went dead.

"You reckon we oughta stop an wait for somebody to tell us what to do?" I ast.

"Hell, no," says Dan. "We got them bastids on the run - Let's keep em there!"

So that's what we did. We was in the sandstorm all day an most of the night. Couldn't see two feet in any direction, or tell if it was night or day, but we kep on goin. Couple of times we passed stalled-out tanks of Saddamn Hussein's army an refilled our fuel tanks from em.

"You know," says Lieutenant Dan, "way I figger it, we've come nearly three hundred miles."

Sergeant Kranz done looked at the map.

"If that is the case," he says, "why, we oughta be damn near to Baghdad by now."

Sure enough, just then the sandstorm let up an we come out to a bright sunshine. A sign on the road says Baghdad - 10 kilometers.

We stopped for a minute an popped open the tank hatch an looked out. Sure enough, we can see Baghdad up ahead - a big ole white-lookin city with gold spires on the tops of buildins. But we don't see nothin else all around.

"We must of outrunned our own line," says Sergeant Kranz.

"I suppose we ought wait for them," Dan says.

All of a sudden, ole Sue, whose natural eyesight is like binoculars, begun to chatter an wave his hands an point behind us.

"What's that?" Sergeant Kranz ast.

Over the horizon, we could barely make out a bunch of vehicles in a line comin up behind us.

"It's our tanks, finally," says Lieutenant Dan.

"Hell it is!" hollers Sergeant Kranz. He has got out the field glasses an is starin at the line of vehicles.

"That's the whole goddamn A-rab army!" he shouts. "We ain't only outrunned our own army - we've outrunned theirs, too!"

"Well," says Dan, "this is a fine kettle of fish. Looks like we is caught between the proverbial rock an the hard place."

That is the understatement of the year, far as I'm concerned. Here is the entire A-rab army bearin down on us in one direction, an up ahead is where Saddamn Hussein hissef lives!

"Well, we gotta get some more gas anyhow," Dan says. "I reckon we might as well go into town an find a fillin station."

"What! Are you nuts?" shouts Sergeant Kranz.

"Well, what do you suggest?" Dan says. "We run outta gas, we walk. You rather walk, or ride in a tank?"

I reckon Dan's got a point here. I mean, it probably ain't gonna make no difference one way or the other how we are kilt, so we might as well get kilt ridin in our tank.

"What about you, Gump," Sergeant Kranz asts, "you got a opinion?"

"I don't give a shit," I says. An that was the truth.

"Arright," say Dan, "then let's go to Baghdad an take in the sights."

So that's what we did.


Previous Table Next