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Forrest Gump--Training

Since no Army unit was ever specified in Groom's novel for PFC Gump’s service in Vietnam, we had a free hand to invent one. Our suggestion that we shoot the Vietnam sequences on one of the barrier islands of South Carolina was accepted by Director Robert Zemeckis and we knew the terrain in that area most closely resembled the Mekong Delta area of Vietnam, so we chose to have Forrest and Bubba serve in a unit of the 9th Infantry Division who did most of their combat service in The Delta.

We did some quick research and decided on Alpha Company, 2nd Battalion, 47th Infantry for our base unit as their operations during the specified time (1968-69) most closely resembled what was called for in the script. We recruited for special ability extras among the former and active duty Marines in the Parris Island/Beaufort area and then took to the field on Hunting Island to commence training in a very wet, muddy and muggy area. We designated and had the 30 troops and three actors build a platoon patrol base from which we would conduct 10 days of training in the field. Privates Gump (Tom Hanks) and Blue (Mykelti Williamson) dug foxholes and filled sandbags along with all the other grunts while we began to work on 2nd Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) for his role as platoon leader.

Since the unit involved was straight-leg infantry and the script did not call for much more than basic patrol activities, we kept the daily schedule focused on long, hot walks under heavy packs to give the troops some feel for that most basic Vietnam grunt activity. We walked out of our Patrol Base every morning to conduct training in weapons, tactics, navigation and related subjects. We generally did not return until dark and frequently remained away from our base overnight to conduct night activities. As usual, the XO and Cadre NCOs served as Switchblade aggressor forces.

After a while we got the look and feel right simply by stress training and familiarization. It was clear by their appearance and numb demeanor after a week or so that our troops understood a little of what it was like to be a basic infantryman in the Mekong Delta during the Vietnam War. At this point we began to back the Cadre off a little and relied on Lt. Dan to lead the unit. First Platoon of Alpha Company was required to conduct a final field exercise under the Platoon Leader's command that required navigating by compass about two klicks to an objective, conduct a reconnaissance, issue a five-paragraph field order and then conduct an assault on a heavily-fortified position. Except for getting lost a time or two on the movement to the objective area, they did very well.

As we continued work on this project, we were regularly required to acquire new extras and conduct quick, on the spot training for all sorts of non-combat military and civilian scenes. We had about an hour to prepare for the basic training sequence and even less than that to teach a crowd of civilian extras on The Mall in Washington, DC how to be Vietnam War protestors.