Gump and Co. Chapter 10
Goin to Germany was not all it was cracked up to be. This was account of I was escorted there in handcuffs an leg irons by four MPs who kept remindin me that their orders was, if I done anythin funny, they was to immediately crack me over the head with their nightsticks.
Somebody high up in command had apparently give the order that I was to be assigned the dirtiest job in the entire army, an the order was faithfully carried out. I was sent to a tank company, where my duty was to clean all the mud off the tank treads – an let me say this: There is plenty of mud on the tank tracks in Germany in the winter.
Also, word had apparently got out that I am a Jonah or somethin, cause ain’t nobody wants to speak to me except the sergeants, an all they do is holler at me. The days are cold an wet, an the nights are miserable, an I ain’t never felt so lonely. I wrote some letters to little Forrest, but his answers are kind of short an I get the impression maybe he is sort of forgettin me. Sometimes at night, I tried to dream about Jenny but it ain’t no use. Looks like she done forgot about me, too.
One day somebody tole me I am getting a helper to clean the tank treads an I gotta show him the ropes. I gone on out to the motor pool an they is a feller standin there starin down at a tread got about a hundrit pounds of mud on it.
“Say, you the new guy?” I ast.
When he turn around, I almost fainted dead away! It is ole Sergeant Kranz from Vietnam an the army base where me an Mister McGivver collected the garbage for our pigs! Cept I noticed right away, Sergeant Kranz, he ain’t a sergeant major no more – he is only a buck private.
“Oh, no” is the first thing out of his mouth when he sees me.
It seems that Sergeant Kranz blames me for the misfortune of being busted from sergeant-major to private, though even a moron like me can see he is stretchin things a bit.
What had happened was this: After me an Mister McGivver got out of the pig bidness, Sergeant Kranz decided that the army could actually sell their garbage to pig farmers all over the area, an after a while they had so much money they didn’t know what to do with it. So he suggested they use it to build a new officers’ club, an the general was so pleased with this he put Sergeant Kranz in charge of buildin the new club.
On the day of the grand openin, they had a big celebration, with bands an free drinks an all, an to cap it off at the end of the evenin, they had hired a striptease dancer all the way from Australia to do her thing on the stage. Said she was not only the best stripper in Australia, she was the best stripper in the world.
Anyhow, the officers’ club was mobbed so’s you could barely see the stripper, an at some point the general hissef got up on a table in the back of the room to get a better look. However, it seems Sergeant Kranz has installed the ceilin fans about a foot lower than normal, an when the general stands up on the table, it got him in the head. Scalped him, just like a Indian might do.
The general was furious, hollerin an yellin about “How am I gonna explain this to my wife?” An, of course, he blames Sergeant Kranz an has him busted on the spot an sent here, to the dirtiest job in the army.
“I was one of the first black soldiers to make it to the top of the enlisted ranks in this man’s army,” he says, “but it seems like ever time I get around you, Gump, there is some kind of shit fixin to go on.”
I tell him I’m sorry, but that it don’t exactly seem fair to blame me for what happened.
“Yeah, probly you’re right, Gump. It’s just that I put in twenty-eight years of a thirty-year hitch, only to find mysef spendin my final time as a buck private,” he says. “Somebody got to be responsible – that’s the way it is in the army. Couldn’t of been me, else how do you explain that I worked my way up to the highest enlisted rank in the army?”
“Maybe you was just lucky,” I says. “I mean, at least you got to be a sergeant for a long time. Me, I have always been at the bottom of the shit heap.”
“Yeah,” he says, “maybe so. Anyway, it don’t matter anymore, I guess. An besides, it was almost worth it.”
“What was?” I ast.
“Seein the fan give that old bastid a flattop,” he says.
Anyhow, me an Sergeant Kranz have got our work cut out for us. Seems like the division is always on maneuvers, an the mud is two feet deep. We are scrapin an hoein an shovelin an hosin mud from daylight to dark. When we get back to the barracks, we is too dirty to let inside, an they make us hose off in the cold.
Sergeant Kranz, when he talks at all, mostly talks about Vietnam, which, for some reason, he remembers fondly.
“Yeah, Gump, them was the good old days,” he says. “A real war – not this police-action crap they got goin for us now. Man, we had tanks and howitzers and bombers could sure bring down a load of pee on the enemy.”
“Seems like they brought down a load of pee on us, too, sometimes,” I say.
“Yeah, well, that the way it is. In war, people are gonna get killed. That’s why it’s called a war.”
“I never kilt nobody,” I says.
“What! How you know that?”
“Well, I don’t think I did. I never done fired my weapon but once or twice, an then it was just at bushes or somethin.”
“That ain’t nothin to be proud of, Gump. In fact, you oughta be ashamed of yoursef.”
“Well, what about Bubba?” I ast.
“What about him? Who was that?”
“My friend. He got kilt.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember now – the one you went out after. Well, he probably done somethin stupid.”
“Yeah,” I says, “like joinin the army.”
It went on like that day after day. Sergeant Kranz was not the most interestin person to talk to, but at least he was somebody. Anyway, I was beginnin to believe I would never get off the mud detail, when one day somebody come up an say the post commander wants to see me. They hosed me down an I went up to headquarters.
“Gump, I understand you played a little football at one time. That so?” the commander asts.
“Yeah, a little,” I says.
“Tell me about it.”
An so I did. An when I get finished, the commander says, “Greatgodamighty!”
At least, I ain’t got to clean tanks all day no more. Unfortunately, I have now got to clean them all night. But durin the day, I play football for the post team, Swagmien Sour Krauts, we is called.
The Sour Krauts is not a very good football team, to say the least. We was 0 for 11 last year, an 0 for 3 so far this season. Kinda remind me of the old Ain’ts, back in New Orleans. Anyhow, the quarterback is a little wiry guy called Pete, played a little ball in high school. He is fast an slippery an thows the ball okay, but he ain’t no Snake, that is for sure. The post commander is of course unhappy about our record, an makes sure we get in a lot of practice. Like about twelve hours a day. An after that, I gotta go back an clean tanks till about three A.M., but it’s all right by me – at least it keeps my mind off other things. Also, they has made Sergeant Kranz – oops, Private Kranz – the team manager.
Our first football game is against the steam heat company of the post in Hamburg. They are a dirty, filthy lot, an bite an scratch an cuss the whole game, but I runned over most of them, an at the end it is 45 to 0, our way. It was like that the next three games, too, an so we are now ahead of ourselfs for the first time in memory. The commander is beside hissef an to everbody’s amazement, he give us a Sunday off, so’s we can go into town.
It is a nice little ole town, with ole buildins an little cobblestone streets an gargoyles on the winder sills. Everbody in town be speakin German, about which none of us understands nothin. The extent of my German is “ja.”
Immediately, of course, the guys found a beer hall, an before long is swillin down huge glasses of beer, served by waitresses wearin German smocks. It is so good to be off post an around civilians that I even had a beer mysef – even if I couldn’t understand a word anybody around us had to say.
We was in the beer hall a number of hours, an I think we are startin to get rowdy, account of there is a bunch of German guys sort of glarin at us from the other end of the room. They is mutterin stuff at us, such as affenarschs an scheissbolles, but we do not understand them, an so go on about our bidness. After a while, one of our fellers puts his hand on the ass of one of the waitresses. It is not that she minded it so much, but it seems the German guys did. Couple of em come over to our table an begun to say a bunch of stuff real loud.
“Du kannst mir mal en den Sac fassen!” says one of the German fellers.
“Huh?” says our right tackle, whose name is Mongo.
The German guy repeated hissef, an Mongo, who is about ten feet tall, just set there lookin puzzled. Finally, one of our guys who understood a little German says to Mongo, “Whatever it was, I don’t think it was very nice.”
Mongo stood up an face the German. “Whatever you want, pal, we ain’t buyin it – so why don’t you shove off.”
German ain’t buyin it neither. “Scheiss,” he says.
“What’s that?” ast Mongo.
“It is somethin to do with shit,” our feller says.
Well, that was it. Mongo grapped up the German feller an thowed him through a winder. All the other Germans come racin over, an a big ole brawl commenced. People be pokin an gougin an bitin an shoutin. Waitress be screamin an chairs be flyin. It was just like the good ole times back at Wanda’s strip joint in New Orleans.
A feller was about to crack me over the head with a beer bottle when I felt somebody grap my wrist an pull me back. It was one of the waitresses, done decided to hep me get out of there. She pulled me to a back doorway, an nex thing I knowed, we was outside. In the distance, I heard the sirens of a police car, an figgered that this time, at least, I am gonna get away from here so as not to wind up back in jail. The waitress is a nice-lookin German girl an she leads me down a side street, away from the commotion. Gretchen is her name.
Gretchen don’t speak much English, but we kind of communicated by hand an arm signals, me smilin an sayin ja an her tryin to tell me somethin in German. Anyhow, we walked for a long time, right out of the village an up onto some pretty hills outside of town. Little yellow flowers be bloomin an they is snow-covered mountain peaks in the distance, an down below, the valley is all green an dotted with little houses. In the distance, I think I hear somebody yodelin. Gretchen pointed to me an ast my name, an I tell her.
“Ja,” she says. “Forrest Gump is nice name.”
After a while, we got up to a pretty meadow an set down, takin in the scenery. They is some sheep in the meadow an away across the valley the sun is beginnin to set in the Alps. You can look down an see a river from here that is shinin in the afternoon sun, an it is so peaceful an beautiful it makes you want to stay here forever.
Gretchen an me, we is findin it a little easier to communicate. She gets across that she is from East Germany, which has been captured by the Russians who have built a big ole wall to keep the people from leavin. But Gretchen somehow managed to escape an has been workin as a waitress for about five years, hopin that one day she can get her family out of East Germany an over here, where they do not put you inside a wall. I tried to tell Gretchen some of my story, but I am not sure it is gettin across. That don’t matter, though, account of we seems to be gettin to be friends anyhow. At one point, she took hold of my hand again an give it a squeeze, an before it was over with, she done put her head on my shoulder while we just set there, watchin the end of the day.
Over the next few months we played a lot of football. We played some fellers from the navy an some from the air force an a lot more from the army. I used to get Gretchen to come to some of the games when we was playin close to home. She didn’t seem to understand much about it, an mostly what she said was “ach!” but it didn’t matter. It was just sort of nice to have her around. In a way, I guess it was a good thing we didn’t speak the same language, account of she would of probly found out what a stupo I am, an gone her own way.
One day I gone into the village, an me an Gretchen is walkin down the street an I tole her I wanted to buy some kind of present for little Forrest. She is delighted an says she would like to help. We gone into a bunch of shops, an Gretchen is showin me a bunch of stuff like little tin soldiers an wooden toy tractors, but I had to tell her little Forrest was actually not all that little anymore. Finally, I seen what I thought he’d like.
It was a great big ole German ooompa horn, all shiny brass an everthin, just like the kind they played down to the beer hall on Saturday nights.
“But, Forrest,” she says, “that’s too expensive. You don’t have that kind of money on a private’s salary in your army. I know this.”
“Well,” I says, “I guess it don’t matter. See, I don’t get to spend much time with little Forrest, an the way I got it figgered, if I can give him some nice presents, he won’t forget me.”
“Ach, Forrest,” Gretchen says, “this is not the way. I’ll bet if you just wrote him nice long letters two or three times a week, he’d appreciate it more – more than a big old ooompapa horn, anyway.”
“Maybe so,” I answered. “But, see, letter writin ain’t my specialty. I mean, I kinda know what I want to say, but I just can’t seem to get it out on paper. I guess you could say I’m better ‘in person,’ you know what I mean?”
“Ja, Forrest, I think so, but ach this ooompapa horn is eight hundred of your dollars.”
“It don’t matter,” I says. “I been savin up.”
So I gone an bought the ooompa horn. In a way, I got a bargin with it, account of the shopkeeper din’t charge me for the note I sent with it. Wadn’t much of a note anyhow. Just about the same thing as before, cept I tole little Forrest I kinda missed him, an would be home soon. Turned out, that last was just more bullshit from me.
Anyhow, by the end of the season the Sour Krauts is 10 an 3, an we is up for the All Army Championships, down in Berlin. Sergeant Kranz is beside hissef, sayin that we is finally gonna get off the tank-cleanin detail if we can just win this one more game. Me, I am not too sure.
Finally, the big day come. Night before, I have got off for a while to go into the village an see Gretchen. She is waitin tables at the beer hall when I arrive, an after servin a big tray of beer, she takes a break an holds my hand.
“I am so glad you came tonight,” she says. “I have been missing you, Forrest.”
“Yeah, me, too,” I says.
“I am thinking,” she says, “that we might go on a picnic tomorrow. I have got the day off.”
“Well, I’d like to, but I gotta play football.”
“But I was wonderin, could you come to the game? It is in Berlin.”
“Berlin? But it is a long way.”
“I know,” I says, “but they got a bus, you know, to carry down some of the wives an stuff. I think I can get you on it.”
“Ach!” Gretchen says. “This American football, I do not understand. But if you want me to go, Forrest, then I will go.”
An so that’s what we did.
It was in a big ole field next to the Berlin Wall where we played the All Army Championship game. Our opponents was the Wiesbaden Wizards from the intelligence section of the Third Armored Division, an let me tell you, they was smart.
We was bigger an faster, but them intelligence fellers was craftier. First, they unloaded a Statue of Liberty play on us. Ain’t nobody on our side ever seen a Statue of Liberty play, an they scored a touchdown.
Next, they roll out a Tackle Eligible play, an pretty soon the score is fourteen to zip, their way. Everbody, includin Sergeant Kranz, is lookin glum.
In the second half, the Wiesbaden Wizards done thowed a combination stunt-blitz on defense an get us backed up to our own two yard line on fourth down. What is worse, our punter got his knee wrenched, an so is out of the game. In the huddle, somebody say, “Who is gonna kick the ball?”
“Don’t look at me,” I says, but everbody be lookin at me anyway.
“But I ain’t never kicked the ball before,” I says.
“Don’t matter, Gump,” somebody say. “We is gettin the hell beat out of us, an if they is gonna be a scapegoat, it might as well be you. You is on everbody’s shit list already, anyhow.”
An so that’s what happened. I done backed up into our end zone, an all of a sudden the center, he centers me the ball. But somehow, the Wiesbaden Wizards done submarined under all our whole defensive line an appear in my backfield, almost like ghosts. I was fixin to kick, but I decided it was better to try to get some more room, so I begun to run around. I run back an forth in the end zone I don’t know how many times an probably gained a hundrit yards cept, of course, it was goin the wrong way. Finally, I found a little spare room before the Wiesbaden Wizards caught up with me, an gave the ball the biggest kick I could. I stood there an watched the ball sail into the air. So did everbody else. It sailed so high, it went right out of sight. They said later they had never seen a kick like that.
Unfortunately, though, it sailed off the playin field right over the Berlin Wall an disappeared to the other side. Now we got a problem. Everbody be lookin at me in disgust an pointin they fingers an hollerin an cussin at me.
“All right, Gump,” somebody say, “now you gotta go get our ball back.”
“What? You mean climb over the wall?” I ast.
“How else you gonna get it back, you dummy?”
So that’s what I did.
Couple of fellers give me a boost, an over the wall I went. I landed on the other side an looked up where they was a bunch of East German soldiers up in towers, all mannin machine guns. I runned right past them, an ain’t none of them done a thing, I guess account of they ain’t never seen nobody tryin to get in to they country – they was there to shoot the people tryin to get out.
Suddenly, I become aware of a huge ruckus, sound like from about a hundrit thousan people, which was comin from where I figgered the ball had landed. Turns out, I had caused some serious trouble.
What was goin on on this side of the Berlin Wall from where our football game was, was the World Cup Finals of the game of soccer. In fact, it was the last two minutes of the game between East Germany an Russia, an they was people from all over the world done come to see it.
These people, the Europeans especially, take their soccer very seriously.
When I got into the soccer stadium, I could not immediately figger out what was goin on, but it did not look good. What had happened, though, was this: East Germany was about to score a goal an take the lead from the Russians, when I kicked my football. The German player had dribbled his soccer ball downfield an was right at the Russian goalpost when my football bounced in front of him. Since he did not expect this, he became sort of confused an kicked my football right into the Russian goal, instead of his soccer ball. At first, all the Germans went crazy, account of they had scored a goal an won the game.
But then word come from the referee that it was not the right ball that was kicked in the goal an the score was no good, an then the whistle blowed an the Russians done tied the game. They was a lot of bewilderment by the Germans, followed by disorder, an when I come on the field an ast for my ball back, it seemed like the whole place erupted into pandemonium. They spilled out of the stands onto the field, shoutin stuff at me like, “Du schwanzgesicht scheissbolle Susse!” an a bunch of other stuff like that, which was apparently not very nice.
Now, I don’t know what you’d do if you saw a hundrit thousan pissed-off German soccer fans runnin at you, but I turned around an hauled ass. I run right past the tower guards again, an this time they took a few potshots at me, I expect just to keep me honest. Finally, I begun to scramble over the wall just as the mob got to me. With all them thousans of people there, I reckon the tower guards didn’t know exactly what to do, so they didn’t do nothin – just stood there lookin puzzled. I was almost over the wall when somebody grapped the football pants I was wearin an begun to haul me down, but account of I was almost over, they only pulled off my pants.
I dropped on the other side, but a bunch of angry Germans done climbed over after me, an begun chasin me aroun our football field. Then more Germans begun climin over the wall, an a bunch of the others, I reckon in a effort to get at me, begun tearin chunks out of the wall. Pretty soon, it was apparent they was gonna tear down the whole Berlin Wall, just in order to catch me.
All our people was just standin there, kinda astonished-lookin, when I run past the post commander, wearin nothin but a jockstrap.
“Gump, you idiot!” he shouts. “They warned me about you! What is the meaning of this? You have caused some kind of international incident!”
In this, he was correct, but I didn’t have no time to think about that now! Sergeant Kranz, he was poundin hissef on the knee with his fist an was all gray in the face an hollerin somethin about us bein put on “permanent tank-tread duty,” when I caught sight of Gretchen, up in the stands.
She waved for me to come up there, an then she took me by the hand an dragged me into the street.
“I don’t know what you have done, Forrest, but I will tell you this – they are tearing down the Berlin Wall, and for the first time in thirty years our country will not be divided. Perhaps I can even see again my own family, ja?”
Well, Gretchen an me, we hid in a alley for a while, an then she took me to a house of some of her friends, which was kinda embarrassin, considerin my dress. But they was all excited, account of the television was showin the East Germans tearin down the big ole Berlin Wall an dancin in the streets an everthin. They seemed to have forgot about me costin em the World Cup soccer match, an everbody was happy an kissin an huggin each other.
Anyhow, Gretchen an me, we spent the night with each other for the first time, an for some reason, I didn’t feel guilty afterwards. I kinda half expected Jenny to show up again, an when I was walkin down the hall to the bathroom, I sort of felt like she was watchin me, but she never did show hersef.