In 1981, a white feather drifts down out of the sky and lands at a bus stop in Savannah, Georgia. A man named Forrest Gump picks it up and places it in his copy of the children’s book Curious George. He then recounts his life story to strangers who sit next to him on a bench.
In 1951 in Greenbow, Alabama, young Forrest is fitted with leg braces to correct a curved spine, and is unable to walk properly. He lives alone with his mother, who runs a boarding house out of their home that attracts many tenants, including a young Elvis Presley, who plays the guitar for Forrest and incorporates Forrest’s jerky dance movements into his famous performances. On his first day of school, Forrest meets a girl named Jenny Curran, and the two become best friends. It is implied that Jenny’s father sexually abuses her.
Forrest is often bullied because of his physical disability and marginal intelligence. While fleeing from some bullies, his braces fall off, revealing Forrest to be a very fast runner. This talent eventually allows him to receive a football scholarship at the University of Alabama in 1963; he witnesses Alabama Governor George Wallace’s stand in the schoolhouse door, becomes a top kick returner, is named to the All-American team, and meets United States President John F. Kennedy at the White House in Washington D.C. Following that, then Forrest remembers the Kennedy assassination, when somebody shot the President in 1963 and somebody shot his younger brother in 1968.
After his college graduation, Forrest enlists into the U.S. Army, where he befriends a fellow soldier nicknamed “Bubba”, who convinces Forrest to go into the shrimping business with him after their service. In 1967, they are sent to Vietnam, serving with the 9th Infantry Division in the Mekong Delta region. After a few routine operations, their platoon is ambushed while on patrol, and Bubba is killed in action. While trying to find Bubba, Forrest ends up finding and saving several wounded platoon-mates—including his lieutenant, Dan Taylor, who loses both his legs—and is awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism by United States President Lyndon B. Johnson.
At the anti-war “March on the Pentagon” rally, Forrest meets Abbie Hoffman and briefly reunites with Jenny, who has been living a hippie lifestyle. He also develops a talent for ping-pong, and becomes a sports celebrity as he competes against Chinese teams in ping-pong diplomacy, earning him an interview alongside John Lennon on The Dick Cavett Show. Following that, then Forrest remembers that somebody shot John Lennon in 1980. In New York City, he spends Christmas and the 1972 new year with Lieutenant Dan, who has become an embittered cripple. Forrest soon meets United States President Richard Nixon and stays in the Watergate complex, where he accidentally exposes the Watergate scandal, forcing Nixon to resign in 1974. Forrest Gump is officially discharged from the army after the war ends.
Returning to Greenbow, Forrest endorses a company that makes ping-pong paddles. He uses the earnings to buy a shrimping boat in Bayou La Batre, fulfilling his promise to Bubba. Lieutenant Dan joins Forrest in 1974, and they initially have little success. After their boat becomes the only one to survive Hurricane Carmen, they pull in huge amounts of shrimp and create the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, after which Lieutenant Dan finally thanks Forrest for saving his life. Lieutenant Dan invests into Apple Computer, Inc. and the two become millionaires, but Forrest also gives half of the earnings to Bubba’s family, giving them a better life. Forrest then returns home to see his mother as she dies of cancer.
In 1976, Jenny—recovering from years of drugs and abuse returns to visit Forrest, and after a while he proposes to her. That night she tells Forrest she loves him and the two make love, but she leaves the next morning. Heartbroken, Forrest goes running, and spends the next three years in a relentless cross-country marathon, becoming famous again before returning home to Greenbow.
In the present, Forrest reveals that he is waiting at the bus stop because he received a letter from Jenny, who asked him to visit her. The strangers say that the address on the letter is only a few blocks away, and Forrest immediately takes off. As Forrest is finally reunited with Jenny, she introduces him to their son, named Forrest Gump, Jr. Jenny tells Forrest she is sick with an unknown incurable virus, so Forrest has Jenny and Forrest Jr move back to Greenbow with him. Jenny and Forrest finally marry, with Lt. Dan serving as best man while wearing his new prosthetic legs. Sadly, Jenny is overcome by the virus and dies a year later. At her grave some time later, Forrest tells Jenny that he had her father’s house bulldozed to the ground, and that little Forrest is doing well. The film ends with Forrest seeing his son off on his first day of school. Forrest notices that Jr has his Curious George book, as he wants to take it to school for show-and-tell. When Forrest opens the book, the white feather from the beginning of the film falls to the ground. He waves goodbye to Forrest Jr as the school bus leaves, and then sits down on a log as the wind blows and carries the feather back into the sky.