The plot is delivered in a number of lengthy flashbacks in the narrative of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) as he sits at a bus stop with a suitcase full of mementos in Savannah, Georgia in 1981. He initiates conversation with a stranger and recalls his childhood in Greenbow, Alabama during the 1950s.
Forrest is raised by a single mother (Sally Field) who runs a bed and breakfast for travelling folk including at one point a young Elvis Presley, and has to wear leg braces to fix a crooked back. Despite having a diminished intellect, Forrest is admitted to public school after his mother agrees to have sex with the principal. On his first day of school, Forrest meets Jenny Curran, a girl his age who becomes his best friend and is a victim of child molestation by her father. The children bond, finding in each other a confidante and kindred spirit. With Jenny’s encouragement, Forrest runs away from a group of bullies, struggling until his leg braces break off and he finds that he is able to run very fast. Years later, while fleeing the same group of bullies, he runs onto a football field during a practice observed by legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, which gets him into the University of Alabama on a football scholarship. He features in the Stand in the Schoolhouse Door and listens to George Wallace. He then meets President John F. Kennedy as a member of the NCAA “All-American” team.
After graduation, he enlists in the army, where he excels at drill exercises and befriends fellow recruit Benjamin Buford Blue, nicknamed “Bubba” (Mykelti Williamson), an aspiring shrimp boat captain who suggests they go into the shrimp business together after the war. They are sent to Vietnam under Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise). After four months of patrolling in rain, Bubba is killed during their first encounter, an ambush which leaves many of their fellow soldiers wounded. Lieutenant Dan sustains major injuries and loses both his legs. Forrest is wounded in the buttocks while saving members of his platoon—including Lieutenant Dan—and is awarded the Medal of Honor, presented to him by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the White House. At an anti-war rally in Washington featuring Abbie Hoffman, Forrest reunites with Jenny, who has joined the hippie movement after being expelled from college over topless photos of herself and experimenting with drugs. While recovering from his wounds, Forrest discovers an aptitude for ping-pong, eventually playing against the Chinese in ping-pong diplomacy. He runs into Lieutenant Dan, and finds that the former officer is now in a wheelchair and has become an embittered drunk living on disability pension. Forrest is discharged and moves in with Dan and they spend the holidays together, with Forrest explaining his and Bubba’s plan to go into the shrimping business and his intentions to fulfill Bubba’s dream, which Lt. Dan disdainfully mocks. During this period Forrest ends up meeting President Nixon and accidentally reveals the Watergate scandal.