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Ron Kovic
Ron Kovic at an anti-war rally in Los Angeles, California on October 12, 2007.
Born July 4, 1946 (1946-07-04) (age 75)
Ladysmith, Wisconsin, USA
Occupation Political and peace activist, author

Ronald Lawrence Kovic (born July 4, 1946) is an anti-war activist, marine veteran and writer who was paralyzed in the Vietnam War. He is best known as the author of the memoir Born on the Fourth of July, which was made into an Academy Award–winning movie directed by Oliver Stone, with Tom Cruise playing Kovic.[1]

Kovic received the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay on January 20, 1990, exactly 22 years to the day that he was wounded in Vietnam. Ron Kovic was also nominated for an Academy Award for best screen play.[2] Bruce Springsteen wrote the song "Shut Out The Light" after reading Kovic's memoir and then meeting him. Tom Paxton, the folk singer/political activist, wrote the song "Born on the Fourth of July", which is on his "New Songs from the Briarpatch" album. Academy Award winning actress Jane Fonda has stated that Ron Kovic's story was the inspiration for her film Coming Home.

Biography[edit | edit source]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Kovic was born in Ladysmith, Wisconsin, and was raised in Massapequa, New York, in a Roman Catholic household. His father was Croatian, his mother Irish. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" speech, he joined the United States Marine Corps after high school in September 1964 and was assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, for twelve weeks of intensive recruit training. He was awarded the rank of Private First Class out of boot camp and became the push-up champion of his battalion. Kovic was then sent to the Infantry Training Regiment at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, for advanced combat training. He returned home to Massapequa in December 1964, just in time for Christmas. After several weeks leave Kovic was assigned to the Marine Corps Barracks at Norfolk, Virginia, where he attended radio school and learned communication skills, including the International Morse Code. He was next assigned to the Second Field Artillery Battalion, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Service in Vietnam and wounding[edit | edit source]

He volunteered for his first tour of duty and was deployed to Vietnam in December 1965 as a member of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines H&S Company. In June 1966, he volunteered for First Reconnaissance Battalion where he participated in 22 long range reconnaissance patrols in enemy territory. He returned home on January 15, 1967 after a 13 month tour of duty, and was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point, North Carolina. Several months later he volunteered to return to Vietnam a second time.

In October 1967, Kovic accidentally shot and killed another Marine in a friendly fire incident when a NVA unit ambushed him and his men near a village along the Cua Viet River. On January 20, 1968, while leading an attack on a village just north of the Cua Viet River in the Demilitarized Zone, he was shot while leading his squad across an open area. He was shot first in the right foot, which blew out the back of his heel, then again through the right shoulder, suffering a collapsed lung and a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. The first Marine that tried to save him was shot through the heart and killed, then a second Marine carried Kovic to safety through heavy enemy fire (Kovic learned years later that this second Marine was killed later that afternoon). He then spent a week in an intensive care ward in Da Nang. As a result of his service and injuries in the conflict, he was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor and the Purple Heart.

Activism[edit | edit source]

Kovic became one of the best-known peace activists among the veterans of the war and has been arrested for political protest 12 times. He attended his first peace demonstration soon after the Kent State shootings in May 1970, and gave his first speech against the war at Levittown Memorial High School in Levittown, Long Island, New York that same spring. Kovic's speech that day was interrupted by a bomb threat and the auditorium cleared. Undeterred, Kovic continued speaking to students from the school's football grandstands. His first arrest was during an anti-Vietnam War demonstration at an Orange County, California draft board in the spring of 1971 when he refused to leave the office of the draft board explaining to a representative that, by sending young men to Vietnam, they were inadvertently, "condemning them to their death," or to be wounded and maimed like himself in a war that he had come to believe was, "immoral and made no sense." He was told that, if he did not leave the draft board immediately, he would be arrested. Kovic refused to leave and was taken away by police. In a new introduction to his book, Born on the Fourth of July, written in March 2005, Kovic stated, "I wanted people to understand. I wanted to share with them as nakedly and openly and intimately as possible what I had gone through, what I had endured. I wanted them to know what it really meant to be in a war, to be shot and wounded, to be fighting for my life on the intensive care ward, not the myth we had grown up believing. I wanted people to know about the hospitals and the enema room, about why I had become opposed to the war, why I had grown more and more committed to peace and nonviolence. I had been beaten by the police and arrested twelve times for protesting the war and I had spent many nights in jail in my wheelchair. I had been called a Communist and a traitor, simply for trying to tell the truth about what had happened in that war, but I refused to be intimidated." In early 1989, he presented Tom Cruise with his Bronze Star medal on the final day of filming Born on the Fourth of July, explaining to the actor that he was giving him the award as a gift for his "courageous portrayal of the true horrors of war." Time Magazine reported that Oliver Stone said, "He gave it to Tom for bravery for having gone through this experience in hell as much as any person can without actually having been there." In 1974, Kovic led a group of disabled Vietnam War veterans in wheelchairs on a 17-day hunger strike inside the Los Angeles office of Senator Alan Cranston. The veterans protested the "poor treatment in America's Veterans Hospitals" and demanded better treatment for returning veterans, a full investigation of all Veterans Affairs (V.A.) facilities, and a face-to-face meeting with head of the V.A. Donald E. Johnson. The strike continued to escalate until Johnson finally agreed to fly out from Washington, D.C., and meet with the veterans. The hunger strike ended soon after that. Several months later Johnson resigned. In late August 1974 Kovic traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, where he spent a week in the Catholic stronghold of "Turf Lodge," interviewing both political activists and residents. In the spring of 1975 Kovic, photojournalist Loretta Smith, and author Richard Boyle traveled to cover the Cambodian Civil War as correspondents for the Pacific News Service.[citation needed]

Kovic was a speaker at the 1976 Democratic National Convention, seconding the nomination of draft resister Fritz Efaw for Vice President of the United States. Time magazine described the scene as one of the few poignant moments of the convention and many in the audience were brought to tears. On July 12, 1977 Kovic was arrested with 191 students and supporters during the Gym protests at Kent State University. In 1988 Ron Kovic was a Jesse Jackson delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. From 1990 to 1991, Kovic took part in several anti-war demonstrations against the first Gulf War, which occurred not long after the release of his biographical film. In early May 1999, following the US bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, Kovic met with China's ambassador to the United States Li Zhaoxing at the Chinese embassy in Washington D.C. to express his most sincere condolences and present the ambassador and his staff with two dozen red roses. He was[when?] an outspoken critic of the Iraq War. In November 2003, he joined protests in London against the visit of George W. Bush. He was the guest of honor at a reception held for British peacemakers at London's city hall by Mayor Ken Livingstone. The following day, he led a march of several hundred thousand demonstrators on Trafalgar Square, where a huge rally was held protesting the visit of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Kovic attended the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. On Sunday, August 24, 2008, the day before the convention began, Kovic spoke, then led thousands in a march against the war which ended with him saying, "In the city of Denver, we got welcomed home."[3] In March 2007, Kovic checked into the Ernest Bors Spinal Cord Injury ward of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Long Beach, California, for an undisclosed illness.

Recent activity[edit | edit source]

On January 20, 2008, Kovic observed his 40th anniversary of having been shot and paralyzed in the Vietnam War. Kovic, in March 2005, said: "The scar will always be there, a living reminder of that war, but it has also become something beautiful now, something of faith and hope and love. I have been given the opportunity to move through that dark night of the soul to a new shore, to gain an understanding, a knowledge, and entirely different vision. I now believe I have suffered for a reason and in many ways I have found that reason in my commitment to peace and nonviolence. My life has been a blessing in disguise, even with the pain and great difficulty that my physical disability continues to bring. It is a blessing to speak on behalf of peace, to be able to reach such a great number of people."

On April 8, 2009, Kovic joined British MP and activist George Galloway to launch Viva Palestina USA, an American branch of Viva Palestina. Kovic planned to co-lead with Mr. Galloway a humanitarian relief convoy to the Gaza Strip in early July 2009. On December 6, 2009 Kovic spoke honoring Bruce Springsteen at the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors in Washington, D.C. On December 22, 2009, Kovic, Oliver Stone, and friends celebrated the 20th anniversary of the 1989 film release of Born on the Fourth of July at a dinner party in Torrance, California. In April 2010, Kovic traveled to Rome, Italy, as a member of the Council for Dignity, Forgiveness, and Reconciliation. Between April 19–26, he attended meetings at Rome's City Hall with other international peace activists, diplomats and academics, to discuss the need for conflict resolution and other more peaceful, nonviolent alternatives to war as a way of solving the worlds many conflicts. On April 21, 2010, he spoke of his journey from war to peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation before Rome's mayor Gianni Alemanno, and other civic leaders at Rome's Ara Pacis (Altar of Augustan Peace), commissioned by the Roman Senate 4 July- 13 BC. Kovic lives in Redondo Beach, California, where he writes, paints, plays the piano, and gardens. He has never married. He plans to begin writing the long-awaited sequel to his book, Born on The Fourth of July.

Films[edit | edit source]

  • 1973 - Operation Last Patrol. Directed by Frank Cavestani and Catherine Leroy.
  • 1989 - Born on the Fourth of July. Directed by Oliver Stone.


See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

External links[edit | edit source]

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