Kovic, Ron 1946-
KOVIC, Ron 1946-
PERSONAL: Born July 4, 1946, in Ladysmith, WI; son of a grocery checkout clerk. Education: Attended a New York college, 1969. Hobbies and other interests: Painting, gardening, playing piano; played wheelchair basketball in the 1970s.
ADDRESSES: Home—Redondo Beach, CA. Agent— c/o Author Mail, Carol Publishing Group, 120 Enterprise Ave. S., Secaucus, NJ 07094.
CAREER: Political activist, writer, artist, and poet. Antiwar activist, 1970—; war correspondent in Cambodia, 1975; State University of New York at Stonybrook, writer-in-residence, 1983. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, 1964-68; became lance corporal; wounded in battle, paralyzed, and discharged, 1968; received Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
MEMBER: Vietnam Veterans against the War, 1971—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Academy Award nominations for best adapted screenplay and for best film, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and Golden Globe for best screenplay, (with Oliver Stone), all 1990, all for Born on the Fourth of July; book Born on the Fourth of July received a National Book Award nomination.
Born on the Fourth of July (autobiography; also see below), McGraw (New York, NY), 1976, Akashic Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Around the World in Eight Days (novel), City Lights (San Francisco, CA), 1984.
A Dangerous Country, City Light Books (San Francisco, CA), 1987.
(Author of introduction) Dick Durrance, Where War Lives: A Photographic Journal of Vietnam, Hill and Wang (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Oliver Stone) Born on the Fourth of July (screenplay; adapted from Kovic's autobiography), Universal Pictures, 1989.
(Author of introduction) Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun, Carol Publishing (Washington, DC), 1991.
Audio cassette "Born on the Fourth of July: A Timeless Story of Survival and Triumph by a Disabled Vietnam Veteran" was released in January, 1990.
SIDELIGHTS: Ron Kovic began his career as a U.S. Marine, serving in the Vietnam War. Upon his return to the United States, Kovic pursued an unlikely career for a Vietnam War veteran: he became an antiwar activist. He is widely known, not only for his political views, but also for his 1976 autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July, which he and director Oliver Stone adapted for film in 1989.
Kovic begins his autobiography with a description of life in the Midwest and on Long Island, where he spent his childhood. In high school he was a member of the wrestling team and a pole vaulter for the track squad. While he aspired to be a professional baseball player, Kovic's family had a strong military background and had instilled in him a strong sense of patriotism. A marine recruiter's inspirational speech at his high school also fueled Kovic's sense of patriotic duty, and in 1964, desperate to avoid the daily grind of common labor, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines.
In Born on the Fourth of July, Kovic admits that he joined the Marines with aspirations of heroism. After training, he was sent to radio school at the Norfolk Marine Barracks in Virginia. He longed to spend his time fighting for his country, rather than cleaning radios at the barracks, so he volunteered to go to Vietnam and serve in the "Recon" platoon, which needed more men after an attack wiped out almost the entire platoon. His request was granted ten days later. Kovic was also affiliated with the Dunn's Raiders unit, whose motto was "We came to kill. Never have so few done so foul to so many." Kovic served a full term of duty and was sent home to the Hawk missile battalion.
His dreams of heroism still prevalent, Kovic was uncomfortable being on U.S. soil while his fellow marines were fighting in the war. He made fifteen requests to be sent back to Vietnam before his superiors relented. During his second term of warfare, however, Kovic realized that there was no glory in the horrors of war. Two specific incidents led him to abandon his dream of becoming a hero. The first occurred when, during the confusion of combat, Kovic may have accidentally shot a U.S. Marine who was running toward him. When Kovic reported the accident to his commanding officer, his concern was ignored and no fault was assigned for the unfortunate event. The second incident occurred when, during a night patrol, Kovic and other marines discovered a hut in which they reported seeing weapons. Believing that the enemy was camped in the hut, Kovic and the other marines opened fire mercilessly. When they entered, they found several wounded children and an old man. The sight, Kovic recalled, was shattering, and several marines began weeping. Upon reporting the incident, the marines received a cold response from a superior officer, who reproached the soldiers as weak and dismissed the incident as merely another unfortunate aspect of modern warfare.
After these two horrific incidents, Kovic was determined to leave Vietnam, even if it meant deliberately becoming wounded by stepping on a mine or taking foolish risks during battle. On January 20, 1968, Kovic's wish came true. Upon being shot, Kovic felt both contentment and elation, not the typical response of a wounded soldier. "Finally the war was with me and I had been shot by the enemy," he noted in Born on the Fourth of July. "I was getting out of the war and I was going to be a hero." Only a few moments after he received his initial wound, however, a second bullet entered Kovic's right shoulder, traveled through his lung, and hit his spinal cord, immediately paralyzing him from the mid-chest down.
After receiving medical treatment in Vietnam for his T4-6 spinal cord injury, twenty-one-year-old Kovic returned to the United States, where he faced the deplorable conditions of veterans' hospitals in the Bronx and Queens. In 1968, he was awarded a Bronze Star for heroism and a Purple Heart for incurring a battle wound. Though Kovic had been wounded and awarded military honors, he found himself regarded as a curiosity rather than a hero. During a Memorial Day parade, people stared instead of cheering. Distraught over his disability, Kovic nonetheless persisted in maintaining social interaction, despite a deep depression that threatened to overtake him. He began university studies in the fall of 1969, but an accident during physical therapy landed him in another veterans' hospital with a broken thigh bone. The hospital's foul, dehumanizing conditions fueled Kovic's outrage over what he perceived as betrayal of Vietnam veterans by the American government. Kovic was treated in the hospital for six months before being released.
Earlier, Kovic had held only disdain for war protesters and draft dodgers, people largely perceived by pro-war parties as cowards or traitors. But when he discovered that the American government itself seemed unwilling to accord consideration and appreciation to its war veterans, Kovic began to question the war itself. On May 4, 1970, war-protesting students at Kent State University were fired upon and killed by Ohio's National Guard. This event, appropriately named the Kent State Massacre, further spurred Kovic's newfound disdain for the U.S. government. That same day, Kovic attended his first protest, and later that week traveled to Washington, D.C. where thousands attended a rally both mourning the Kent State dead and protesting the American invasion of Cambodia. It wasn't long before Kovic began speaking out against the Vietnam War, which he decried as an unwarranted, inhuman operation. Kovic joined the antiwar efforts of Bobby Muller, a fellow wheelchair-bound Vietnam veteran with whom he had conversed at different veterans' hospitals, and who would later found the Vietnam Veterans of America. Kovic and Muller began speaking at different schools. Despite his disability, Kovic soon became an active proponent of public protest. On one occasion, he halted traffic in front of President Richard Nixon's reelection headquarters by placing his wheelchair in front of a vehicle. For this action, Kovic was thrown from his wheelchair, kicked, and arrested by undercover police officers posing as protesters.
Kovic executed a more spectacular protest in 1972 at the Republican Party convention, where he drew attention when he refused to relocate to the less-visible rear of the hall. He was so loud and caused such a scene, shouting his story to the convention attendees, that CBS News reporter Roger Mudd allowed him a few moments of airtime in a live, national interview. Kovic, Bobby Muller, and another veteran also managed to interrupt President Nixon when he accepted the Republican Party's renomination. "It had been the biggest moment of our lives," Kovic wrote in Born on the Fourth of July. "We had shouted down the president of the United States and disrupted his acceptance speech." Kovic considered the act a victory over "all the pain and the rage, all the trials and the death of the war and what had been done to me and a generation of Americans by all the men who had lied to us and tricked us."
Kovic maintained high visibility as an activist even after the United States withdrew from Vietnam in the early 1970s. He protested against nuclear development, American interference in Central America, and the inferior medical care accorded war veterans. One of Kovic's most memorable speeches was made at the 1976 National Democratic Convention. In addition to his activism efforts, Kovic began writing. In 1976 he published Born on the Fourth of July, which took only two months to write. Newsweek's Walter Clemons hailed Kovic's autobiography as "an extraordinarily effective document," and in an appraisal for the New York Times Book Review, C. B. D. Bryan lauded the book as "the most personal and honest testament published thus far by any young man who fought in the Vietnam War."
In the late 1970s, Kovic became somewhat of a celebrity. He reportedly served as the basis for the sensitive war-veteran-turned-activist character in the antiwar film Coming Home, and reports circulated that Kovic's Born on the Fourth of July would itself soon be filmed. The project faltered, though, and for the next several years Kovic traveled, taught, and wrote. In 1983, he published Around the World in Eight Days, a short novel about a Vietnam War veteran who wagers that he can circle the globe in eight days without the benefit of aircraft. Writing in American Book Review, Edmund Cardoni called the book "wildly imaginative" and noted that compared to Born on the Fourth of July, Around the World in Eight Days is "more patently literary in the tribute it pays to the transformative power of narrative art."
Although he continued to enjoy prominence in the 1980s for his activism and writing, the increasingly reclusive Kovic still hoped for a film version of Born on the Fourth of July. "I knew that a movie would really be able to reach people who would not pick up my book," he told the New York Times. In 1989, filmmaker Oliver Stone, who had earlier won acclaim with such films as Salvador and Platoon, helped Kovic realize his goal. For Stone, who professed longtime admiration for Kovic, the filming of Born on the Fourth of July was the fulfillment of a promise he had made to Kovic several years earlier, when the two men met at a sidewalk café in Venice, California. Kovic and Stone cowrote the screenplay for Born on the Fourth of July, which Stone then directed. Actor Tom Cruise was recruited to play Kovic.
Upon its release in December, 1989, the movie Born on the Fourth of July was not without its detractors, some of whom decried the film as strident and overly manipulative. Stanley Kauffmann of New Republic noted "The film doesn't register as a whole because the screenplay is fuzzy. . . . The crux of the film—its thematic reason for being—is the agony out of which Kovic changed from a gung-ho volunteer-and-veteran into an anti-war activist. We don't really see this change. . . .Without this capstone, the film is a series of segments, without architectural completion." Kauffman then wrote "Nonetheless, the heat in the film is almost palpable as we sit before it. Stone, Kovic, Cruise, and all the others reached deep inside to make this picture, and it earns something more than respect." Many other reviewers hailed it as an overwhelming experience. The New York Times's Vincent Canby, for instance, described it as "a film of enormous visceral power" and added that "no other Vietnam movie has so mercilessly evoked the casual, careless horrors of the paraplegic's therapy, or what it means to depend on catheters for urination, or the knowledge that sexual identity is henceforth virtually theoretical." According to Canby, Born on the Fourth of July constituted "the most ambitious nondocumentary film yet made about the entire Vietnam experience." Reviewer Annabelle Boyd said "Born on the Fourth of July possesses an emotional grip of iron. . . . [Stone] tells Kovic's story with anger, insight, and a bullying determination to make the American nation come to grips with what it did to Kovic and thousands like him. Born is a gruesome movie, but it offers courage and inspiration and the hope that the hard-learned lessons of Vietnam can help a new generation to a greater understanding of the nature of democracy and heroism and war. Born on the Fourth of July is Stone's poignant plea to America to re-define its out-dated, dangerously intoxicating notions of manhood." The film received several Academy Award nominations, including best adapted screenplay and best film. Stone received an Academy Award for best director.
After promoting Born on the Fourth of July, Kovic withdrew to the privacy of his home in Redondo Beach, California. Some speculated that he might enter politics, but in 1990 he rejected a Democratic Party suggestion that he run for Congress. He returned to activism, however, after the September 11, 2001, terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City, followed by a declaration of war on Iraq by President George W. Bush. Following the incident, Kovic attended large anti-war marches and rallies in Washington, DC, and San Francisco. At the October 26, 2002, San Francisco rally, Kovic told marchers "This is the most important moment in American history. You are a part of an extraordinary moment in the turning of the history of this country. You will take this government back on behalf of the people of the United States." In a January 17, 2003, interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Kovic stated "There is a very powerful movement that is opposed to this war, and that is very, very concerned that President Bush's war against Iraq will hurt us and will make us targets of terror of the American people, even greater targets of terror than before. . . . I think it's going to be larger [than the antiwar demonstrations in the late 1960s and early 1970s involving Vietnam[. I think it's going to be more powerful. It's going to be like nothing that's ever been seen before in this country. I really sense this to be an extraordinary cross roads in American history."
Years after the Vietnam War, Kovic holds a profound regard for the wound that so irrevocably changed his life. "I never thought I would say this, but I believe that my wound has become a blessing in disguise," he told Newsday interviewer Jon Kalish. "It's enabled me to reach millions of people with a message of peace and a message of hope."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Gay, Kathlyn and Martin K. Gay, Heroes of Conscience: A Biographical Dictionary, ABC-CLIO (Santa Barbara, CA), 1996.
Kovic, Ron, Born on the Fourth of July, McGraw, 1976.
Leaders from the 1960's, edited by David DeLeon, Greenwood Press (Westport, CT), 1994.
Legends in Their Own Time, Prentice Hall General Reference (New York, NY), 1994.
Moss, Nathaniel, Ron Kovic: Antiwar Activist, Chelsea House Publishers (New York, NY), 1993.
American Book Review, November, 1985.
American Film, January, 1990, "To Hell and Back."
America's Intelligence Wire, January 17, 2003, Wolf Blitzer, "Talk with Ron Kovic."
Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1989.
Harper's, September, 1976, "Missing in Action," pp. 80-82.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 27, 1985, p. 9.
Los Angeles Times, December 20, 1989, April 23, 1995, Ron Kovic and Robert Scheer, "McNamara Still Owes Vets a Debt."
Newsday, December 17, 1989.
Newsweek, September 20, 1976, "Hell on Wheels," p. 88, May 9, 1983, "Some of the Wounds Have Healed," December 25, 1989.
New York Times, July 8, 1977, p. C18, August 17, 1976, p. 35, December 17, 1989, December 20, 1989.
New York Times Book Review, August 15, 1976, "Growing Up the Hard Way," p. 1, January 2, 1977, p. 2, February 17, 1985, p. 20.
People, April 9, 2002, p. 142.
Premiere, February, 1990.
San Francisco Review of Books, vol. 20, May, 1995, review of Born on the Fourth of July, p. 22.
Virginia Quarterly Review, winter, 1977, p. 28.
Digital Kent Stater,http://www.stater.kent.edu/ (October 20, 2003), Mike Bachna, "Born on the Fourth of July: Author of novel on Vietnam conflict speaks at Kent State."
The Hero Project,http://www.heroism.org/ (October 20, 2003), "Heroism Project: Ron Kovic, Vietnam Veteran."
Lisa Rein's Peaceful Protest Web site,http://www.lisarein.com/peace/ (October 20, 2003), "Transcription of Ron Kovic's Speech—October 26, 2002—Anti-war March in San Francisco."
Newsday.com,http://www.newsday.com/ (October 20, 2003), David Behrens, "Vietnam War's Deep Wounds."
Peacemakers,http://myhero.com/ (October 20, 2003), Nathaniel Moses, "Peacemaker Hero: Ron Kovic"; Tim Gilmer, "Ron Kovic Reborn."
The Tech,http://the-tech.mit.edu/ Annabelle Boyd, "Stone's New Epic Gripping Portrayal of Horrors of War," (October 20, 2003); originally printed on January 10, 1990, vol. 109, no. 58, p. 9.*
"Kovic, Ron 1946-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/kovic-ron-1946
"Kovic, Ron 1946-." Contemporary Authors, New Revision Series. . Retrieved September 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/kovic-ron-1946
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