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Soldiers, from "Forrest Gump," a movie starring Tom Hanks

Subthemes: Training, Weapons and Equipment, Medals

One of the most beloved movies of all time, “Forrest Gump” follows the endearing Forrest (Tom Hanks) through Army boot camp, where he befriends Bubba Blue (Mykelti Williamson), on to his medal-winning bravery during a firefight in Vietnam, and through recovery in a military hospital. Several subthemes of Soldiers can be drawn from the movie that won six Oscars (and also starred Robin Wright, Sally Field, and Gary Sinise).

Tom Hanks and his girlfriend, Jenny (Robin Wright).

Training: To transform civilians like Forrest and Bubba into soldiers requires disciplined training. At a minimum, the troops-to-be must shape up physically, so they run and march and exercise. Second, in boot camp drill sergeants teach them skill with their weaponry, such as how to assemble and disassemble a rifle, how to fire it, how to aim and launch mortars, how to toss a grenade, but no longer how to gallop a charging horse. If you can’t shoot accurately, you miss your mark as infantry soldier. Third, it is drummed into recruits to respond promptly as a unit and follow the orders of their superiors. Fourth, many soldiers learn specialties, because when 10 support personnel back up each grunt in the field, many non-combat roles need to be carried out proficiently (not including firing squads) behind the lines. With all this, induction training can take months and refinement continues periodically thereafter.

Weapons and Equipment: Forrest became magically adept at assembling and cleaning his gun. Soldiers need to learn how to maintain and protect their weapons: rifles, grenades, bayonets, machine guns, mortars, and much more. They may also be provided with helmets, boots, belts, vests, and a range of other gear. Then there is communications equipment, medical supplies, food, transportation, shovels, barbed wire, and other matériel. Specialists learn to pack a parachute or defuse a mine. An army travels on its stomach, but if supplies run low, an army sputters.

Medals: A cynical Napoleon Bonaparte remarked that “A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.” Members of the military who have served long careers proudly wear a uniform chest full of ribbons that reflect the medals they have been awarded. Scores of medals have been created over the years. Our nation’s ultimate award for courage in battle, usually bestowed posthumously, is the Medal of Honor. As of 2019 according to the USO, 3,473 Medals of Honor have been bestowed on service members across all branches. As for the Purple Heart, which Private Gump earned in Vietnam when he was shot, it is given to service members wounded or killed by enemy action. According to the Purple Heart Hall of Fame, an estimated 1.8 million Purple Hearts have been awarded.


Forrest Gump gives us a sense of basic training in the United States for infantry soldiers, including the array of weaponry they are supplied. He was awarded a medal for his courageous rescues of wounded comrades.

If you are interested in further thoughts on the concept “Soldiers,” consider other subthemes that don’t fit as directly to the poem, painting, rock song, and movie written about in this series. For an overview, this article explains Themes from Art or click on the navigation bar, “About.”

We invite you to read about other movies discussed on this blog, and their themes. Here they are:

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