Forrest goes back into the jungle to find Bubba, and trips over Lieutenant Dan, who is on a radio talking about the deaths in his platoon. Forrest picks up Lieutenant Dan, as Dan resists. He brings Dan to safety and Dan scolds him for not leaving him in the jungle. On his way, Forrest gets hit by something.
Against Dan's orders, Forrest goes back to find Bubba, who is dying on the ground, holding a leaf over a horrible wound. Forrest carries Bubba to safety. He lays Bubba down on the ground and says, "Hey Bubba." Bubba tells Forrest, "I want to go home," and dies.
The scene shifts to the present, with Forrest sitting on the bench at the bus stop and telling the story of Bubba's death. A new companion is listening, a man, who asks Forrest if the thing that hit Forrest was a bullet. "Yes sir, bit me directly in the buttocks," Forrest says, adding that, at the infirmary, he got to eat a lot of ice cream. We see Forrest in a hospital bed next to Lieutenant Dan.
Forrest tries to give Dan some ice cream, but Dan throws it away. As the camera zooms out, we see that Dan has lost both his legs. A mail carrier brings Forrest a large stack of mail, but it is a pile of all the letters Forrest sent to Jenny while he was away.
Later, in the recreation room, another wounded soldier teaches Forrest how to play ping pong. He tells Forrest to never take his eye off the ball, and Forrest takes to the game immediately, playing impressively for the other soldiers. One night, Lieutenant Dan confronts Forrest about saving him. He tells Forrest that he did not want to be saved, that he wanted to die in Vietnam, and now he has to live as a cripple. "I had a destiny," he snarls at Forrest, "I was supposed to die in the field, with honor!" He begins to cry, before laying his head on Forrest's chest.
The next day, while he is playing ping pong, someone presents Forrest with a medal of honor. He rushes off to tell Lieutenant Dan, but he is no longer in his hospital bed. A nurse tells Forrest that Lieutenant Dan went home.
We see President Johnson presenting Forrest with a medal of honor. After he receives the medal, Forrest pulls down his pants and shows Johnson the bullet wound in his buttock. Everyone gasps.
After the ceremony, Forrest goes out to see Washington D.C., where he is pulled onto a bus filled with activists looking for veterans who are against the war in Vietnam. Not realizing what is going on, Forrest gets pulled into line with the other veterans, who march around protesting the war. They arrive at a rally, and Forrest is pulled up onstage in front of the protestors. A hippie tells him to talk about the war and everyone cheers. Forrest begins to talk about his experience in Vietnam, but a cop nearby pulls the plugs out of the speakers as he begins to talk and no one can hear his speech. When he is finished, everyone assumes that he spoke out against the war and they cheer for him.
Suddenly, Forrest hears someone calling his name, and sees that Jenny is in the crowd and wading through the reflecting pool in front of the Washington Monument to get to him. They run towards each other and embrace, as the crowd cheers for them. That night, Forrest stays with Jenny and the radicals with whom she is associating, including some Black Panthers. There, Jenny introduces Forrest to her boyfriend, Wesley, who calls Forrest a "babykiller" because of his army uniform. Jenny tells Forrest that she and Wesley lived together in Berkeley and that he is the president of the Berkeley chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society.
Wesley takes Jenny aside and slaps her suddenly, which causes Forrest to kick into protector mode. He charges towards Wesley and beats him up. "He should not be hitting you, Jenny," Forrest says, and he apologizes to the Black Panthers for interrupting their "Black Panther party."
Outside, Jenny insists that Wesley does not mean it when he is abusive. "I would never hurt you, Jenny," Forrest says, and tells her that he wanted to be her boyfriend. We see a montage of all of Jenny's experiences: hitchhiking, drugs, busking in Hollywood next to Jean Harlow's Hollywood star, and then hitchhiking to San Francisco.
The next day, Jenny gets back on the bus with Wesley, who tells her that he has been stressed out about the war, but he would never hurt her. Forrest tells Jenny that he thinks she should go back to Alabama, but she tells him that they have very different lives. He gives her his medal of honor and tells her, "I got it just by doing what you told me to do." She hugs him and gets back on the bus with Wesley.
The scene shifts to a crowd at an army hospital gathered around to watch Forrest play ping pong. He tells us in voiceover that he joined the special services and went around to cheer up wounded soldiers. "I was so good that some years later, the army decided I should be on the All-American ping pong team," he tells his bench companion, and we see him playing in China and winning.
We see Forrest Gump appearing on The Dick Cavett Show, sitting between Dick Cavett and John Lennon. As he comes out of the studio, Lieutenant Dan, who is wearing a trench coat and has grown his hair long, is sitting outside. "They gave you, an imbecile, a moron who goes on television and makes a fool out of himself, in front of the whole damn country, the Congressional Medal of Honor," Dan snarls at Forrest from his wheelchair.
He wheels away, but loses control of his wheelchair on the ramp, falling into the snow. We see Forrest pushing Dan through midtown Manhattan, as he visits various pornographic movie theaters. They go to Dan's apartment for Christmas, and sit watching television.
The death of Bubba, Forrest's "best good friend in the world," is a sobering moment for Forrest, and it leads Forrest to feel genuine sadness for the first time in the film. While many of the disturbing events in the film have been comically misinterpreted by Forrest—Jenny's molestation, the seriousness of integration, the assassination of Kennedy—the personal loss of Bubba affects Forrest on a more visceral level, and he feels the loss of his friend in a deep way.
The tone of the film, however sentimental or tragic it may get, always comes back to a more lighthearted place soon enough. Not long after Forrest suffers the loss of his best friend, Bubba, Forrest finds himself eating ice cream in the army hospital and playing competitive ping pong. Wherever he goes, and in spite of everything, Forrest Gump is attended by good fortune, as though he were being protected by some kind of guardian angel. In this way, the film seeks to show the viewer that, for every hardship, there is also something positive to be gleaned from each experience.
The accidents in Forrest's life are such that he is always showing up on either side of the issue. He is an Alabaman man who was named after the founder of the Ku Klux Klan, who then befriends a black man in the service. He is a Vietnam veteran who gets awarded a medal of honor before promptly getting pulled into the ranks with war protestors and ends up speaking at a protest rally. Forrest's ignorance lands him in many contradictory and unusual situations, all of which he barely understands. It is his ignorance that protects him and grants him access to all these historically potent scenarios.
Returning to Washington reunites Forrest with Jenny, who has joined the New Left and is working closely with members of the SDS and the Black Panther Party. While Jenny seems to have found a political existence that aligns with her Joan Baez ambitions, she is still attracted to men who treat her badly. When Forrest comes to spend time with her, he witnesses her boyfriend, the president of the Berkeley SDS, slap her in the face. Yet again, Jenny struggles to break free from the reverberations of her abusive childhood, try though Forrest might to break her out of the cycle.
The film's tone is often sentimental and aims to inspire. Forrest Gump is a sentimental hero in that he is someone who has impediments to living a normal life, but who finds ways to make a big difference nonetheless. In fact, it is his lack of pretensions or intense ambitions that make Forrest so fearless and singularly good. He cares about his fellow man, but this care, and his power to act on it, comes about because he does not understand many of the complexities of the world, and so has a limited perspective. In this way, the film seeks to transmit to the audience the same message that Forrest's mother transmits to him, that everyone is equal and no one is better than anybody else.