As Forrest Gump, seated on a bus stop bench, narrates his life to whoever’s willing to listen, we catch glimpses of perhaps the most extraordinary life ever lived. There’s nothing remarkable about Forrest of Forrest Gump; he’s a person you’d easily ignore. 

Yet, he’s witnessed and inadvertently influenced some of the most defining moments in United States history. The heartwarming tale narrated and dramatized by Tom Hanks is nearly 30 years old but still fascinates audiences today. 

Forrest Gump takes viewers through various historical moments, sparking questions about the reality or otherwise of the man who traversed them. 

Forrest Gump is fictional but features aspects of Winston Groom’s life

Forrest Gump is based on Winston Groom’s novel of the same name. Gump is a fictional character created by Groom for his book. 

However, Groom based some parts of Gump’s character on his life. Winston served in the Army from the mid to late 60s and completed a tour of Vietnam. 

Groom wrote about Vietnam with such accuracy because he fought in the unforgiving forests against the ruthless Vietcong. “When you are young as a writer, you’ve got to rely on your personal experiences,” Winston said. 

Gump in the film differs significantly from Forrest in the novel. Groom wrote of a 6’6” character with herculean strength and a talent for mathematics. As such, Winston’s first choice for Forrest Gump was John Goodman of Roseanne

Winston’s Forrest had more adventures than Tom’s Gump. Forrest, in the book, had brief stints as an astronaut, a chess master, a professional wrestler, and a movie stuntman. 

Three real people inspired various aspects of Forrest Gump

Remember the scene where Forrest received a Medal of Honor by then-President Lyndon Johnson? That footage is real, with Gump’s head superimposed over Sammy Lee Davis’ head. 

Sammy Lee Davis
Sammy Lee Davis enlisted in the Army during the Vietnam era | Photos by Martin Boling

One morning in November 1967, Sammy Lee Davis’ team came under heavy fire by a wave of Vietcong soldiers. Sammy valiantly held back the enemy as his comrades got the injured to safety.

Unfortunately, Sammy was struck in the back and buttocks by friendly fire. Forrest also suffered a bullet wound to the buttocks. 

A couple of Winston Groom’s friends also inspired Gump’s character. Groom said that Jimbo Meador’s obsession with shrimp convinced him to give Gump a fish processing job. Meador had a fishing boat, and though he didn’t process shrimp, he knew a lot about the business. Winston said:

“Although he never did any shrimp farming, he was always interested in it, and we used to talk about it a lot. Jimbo knows everything there is to know about shrimp. We used to have lunch about once a week, and it occurred to me after one of these conversations while I was writing Forrest, ‘What better thing to do than make Forrest a shrimp farmer?’”

George Radcliffe, the second friend who partly inspired Gump’s character, had a normal life punctuated by several memorable experiences, including an arm-wrestling match against Paul McCartney. Radcliffe battled and beat Paul without knowing who ‘that little drunk English guy’ was. 

That experience would fit right into Forrest Gump’s life. There you have it: Forrest Gump is a fictional character with fictional experiences, but some aspects of his nature and life draw from real people. 

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