on April 25, 2006
Massapequa, New York may well be the most unabashedly patriotic town in America. Like Ron Kovic (who I knew in passing) I grew up there, played in "Sally's Woods" got my hair cut at Sparky the Barber's, and participated in the endless red, white and blue parades that seemed to define our town. A safe, stable bedroom community on Long Island's South Shore, it spawned boys like Kovic who absorbed the tales of "the greatest generation" and took up their fathers' banners when they went to Vietnam.
BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY is Kovic's unpolished, sincere, aggressive and searingly sad remembrance of his Vietnam experience. Kovic was gravely wounded on the first day of the Tet Offensive. Returning home as a paraplegic, Kovic tells us of the hideous treatment he received at the hands of the Veterans Administration, a bureaucracy so rotten that it neglected and abused the very men and women it was supposed to aid.
The sheer contempt with which Kovic was treated turned this All-American young man into a cynic, turning him against the war, and forcing him to confront an uncomfortable paradox: millions were being spent on war machines while America's wounded soldiers had to live with filth and rats in their hospital rooms.
The experience drove Kovic to become a public speaker for Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW). Interestingly, Kovic never mentions John Kerry, a founder of that organization, but he does recount how VVAW was infiltrated by Nixon operatives and almost derailed.
Kovic also tells us---in various flashbacks---about his psychological journey as a paraplegic, about his loneliness, his depression, his pain and misery, and his frustration at being unable to walk. He writes frankly and cathartically of coping with the loss of his sex life. He recounts how the well-meaning but unknowing people of Massapequa made him feel, like their Yankee Doodle poster child come home, a not altogether pleasant role.
And he writes of his challenge to America. Having shouted down Richard Nixon's 1972 nomination acceptance speech, he demands of America self-examination and a reordering of priorities. That very self-examination is the essence of greatness. Should we expect less?
BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY is an important book, and one which needs to be remembered in these days of disillusionment.
I became familiar with Ron Kovic while still a Marine. Probably in 71 or 72 after I returned from Vietnam. Luckily I was not wounded. While stationed in Hawaii after returning, I had the occasion to join Vietnam Veterans Against the War. A friend tried in vane to persuade me to join, but I never could quite do it. I had been taught just like thousands of other young recruits that ours was a noble deed. I still believe that. However...after having read this book, I became much more enlightened to what a lot of men experienced after being wounded/and or wounded severely and emotionally. This book is not about a man against America, but in favor of waking some people up to the horrors of war and the terrible losses we all suffer because of war. A must read.
on May 13, 2004
"Born on the Fourth of July," by Ron Kovic is a riveting, true autobiographical story of the life of a young man who leaves his small town after high school to enter the harsh Vietnam War to honor his country. He tells his story of the horrors that he had to face and watch as a soldier confronted with many difficult situations. While serving his nation, he gets badly injured in action and is forced to stop fighting and go to the hospital. What he sees is what no man should ever have to experience. His injury is severe. He is paralyzed from the waist down and will never be able to walk again. The hospitals were in gruesome conditions. The government did not want to give the funds for better equipment. Kovic explains how the conditions of the hospital were worse than the war itself. Kovic goes through a life changing event. He struggles with his handicap as he also struggles with the horrific memories of the war. During the course of the book, Kovic seeks to find himself in a world that he is lost in. The book goes into deep detail of Kovic's post war experience. Ron Kovic becomes an active anti-war advocate and goes to many demonstrations. He travels to Washington D.C. and even sits in on a speech given by the president. He and many other anti-war veterans hold up signs and try to draw national attention to themselves. Kovic feels so strongly against this war that he even puts himself in a position where he was sent to jail for his beliefs. Kovic moves a lot of people with this powerful book of his life.
The unique aspect about Kovic's book, "Born on the Fourth of the July" is that Kovic wrote the entire book from personal experience. Kovic is not a writer but had a lot to say. He writes his beliefs and thoughts down to tell the world. Suppressed from the government, this is Kovic's way of expressing his self and getting the word out to the general public in regards to the atrocities of the Vietnam War. Kovic believed that the war was wrong. Here is a person who believed in supporting his country and then came upon the realization that he and his country were wrong in their actions. His writing style accentuates the fact that he is like most males from his generation. With only a high school degree, Kovic switches throughout his book from first person to third. This can be confusing to a reader but is not impossible to understand. In fact, the opposite occurs. The reader gets sucked into the dramatic scenes the book portrays and it is hard to put the book down. Kovic wrote this book with his heart and soul in his words. The book is a valuable resource as it provides great historical accuracy and abundant information to the reader while maintaining its compelling appeal as a story. Because this was written completely from first hand experience this book is completely factual. However, the demerits of the interpretation of this book is that it is completely one sided. Throughout the entire book Kovic complains about how badly he feels about himself, his life, his injury, and the war. A reader may view this as him whining and even may detract them from the book and his writing style. On the other hand, this gives a person that has not experienced such an incident an insight into the feeling the helplessness, hopelessness, and lack of self worth a veteran may suffer. This is an insider's view of the war that one would not normally be exposed to. This type of interpretation is hard to depict yet Kovic does this with flying colors. This book comes highly recommended from majority of its readers. It is a good book to read for not only the historical issues discussed, but to read for the pure pleasure of it. A reader does not have to be a history buff to enjoy Ron Kovic's, "Born on the Fourth of July." It conjures up vivid imagery that allows a reader's imagination to create a distinct picture long after the words have been read. These are memories that the reader will keep with them once the book is finished. Kovic uses intense, powerful words that the reader will find hard to forget.
"I am the living death
The memorial day on wheels
I am your yankee doodle dandy
Your john wayne come home
Your fourth of july firecracker
Exploding in the grave"
on September 1, 2007
While Ronnie Kovic was fighting in Vietnam I was in college playing football and baseball on scholarship. All expenses paid. People told me that I was extraordinary while Ronnie was suffering in a squalid Veterans hospital. And while he was being spit on at the Republican National convention I was learning to believe that I deserved an exceptional life and that I was better than guys like him who had somehow believed the lies our government told about how the communists were going to take over the world unless young men stopped them the way our fathers and uncles had stopped the Nazis and the lunatic Japanese.
I was too cool to believe any of that, and guys like Ronnie were unenlightened. I felt sorry for them.
I have become an old man now and these days I am trying for all I am worth to be a good father to my son who is Ronnie's age. When he began telling me that he was thinking about joining the Marines, I began reading to him from Ron's book. Reading to him at night while he lay in his bed as I had when he was a small boy. I wanted him to know that if he went to war in Iraq and was wounded horribly there, his government and his country would not care about him. I wanted him to know that the same people who were in power in America and who sent Ron off to war, were in power once again. The same pathetic collection of clowns and liars eager to have wars so long as they and their children don't have to fight them. Cowards, really. I told my son that he would be fighting for a commander in cheif and a vice president and a secretary of state who are cowards. I told my son that the same conservative republicans who spit on Ron Kovic after he gave his body for America were in power once again and that he could expect them to spit upon him when he came home from war if he opposed them. Ron Kovic's magnificent book persuaded my son not to fight for his country in Iraq. I am forever in the author's debt.
on November 17, 2005
"Born on the Fourth of July" is one of the best books I have ever read. The book is a true story about Ron Kovic, (who is also the author) a marine in combat in Vietnam who gets shot and is paralyzed from the waist down. The book takes you on a journey through his whole life from his birth to his turn around from marine to someone speaking out against the war. The book is a very emotional book especially for a guy. The book is not for all ages but for a more mature audience. The book helped me realize that war is not the answer to a problem. I highly recommend this book for any mature youth who would like an in depth look at what war will do to someone.
on November 7, 1999
I had first seen Oliver Stone's adaptation when I was 11 years old. My pre-pubescent sensibility didn't allow me to comprehend what was on the screen, either did my post-adolescent sensibility. This past summer I had read Mailer's "Armies of the Night", and never stopped pondering the concluding line, "For we must end on the road to that mystery where courage, death, and the dream of love give promise of sleep." So then, what does it mean to be an American? Kovic brought this statement forth in such a compelling manner, that I couldn't help asking myself this question, while reading. I sit cozily, well-fed, and warm, reading this book as an undergraduate; Kovic's experience is unfathomable to a slothful log like myself. Perhaps, this is the point of Kovic's heart-felt articulation, to awaken us, the slumbering masses, who watch a media blurb on war and violence, then leave it behind us and change the channel, while eating our turkey breast with gravy. Things like Vietnam will always happen as long as people remain quiet and content! Thank you Ron Kovic for reminding me of this lesson.
on November 2, 2005
"Born on the Fourth of July," was a book which brought tears to my eyes immediately. It's a very appropriate book to read at a time of war in our country; it gave me a better understanding to what these poor soldiers are facing every day. Ron Kovic told a story of courage, bravery, and sacrifice. Not only did he discuss his own personal experience of the Vietnam War and the effect it had on him, but he deeply described all aspects of the war, from boot camp, to the people he met, to what the actual battles were like. However, it is mainly a story about one mans loss, and how he learns to cope with it every day for his whole life. It deeply affected me because I know there our soldiers out there today going through the same type of experience. It will touch your life as well and allow you to think about it too.
on June 26, 2010
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I had been wanting to watch Born On The Fourth Of July again and for the first time in twenty years (it came out in 1989!) lately but instead I decided to read the book first and then watch the Academy Award winning movie. I'm glad I did! Ron Kovic retells his childhood, high school years as a competitive wrestler, his dreams and hopes of becoming a great Marine and then the transformative years he endured in the U.S. Marine Corps while fighting for his beloved country in Vietnam. Transformative is the word I choose to describe those years Ron Kovic trained, fought, gave three-quarters of his body for his country in a war zone thirteen thousand miles from the land he loved and then fought against his fellow Americans for the respect and care he, as a Vietnam Vet, deserved but wasn't receiving.
Ron Kovic states in the introduction of his heartbreaking, stoic and memorable memoir that he wrote Born On The Fourth Of July in "one month, three weeks, and two days, on a forty-two-dollar manual typewriter." I can't imagine how liberating, horrific, sad and therapeutic it must have been for Kovic to sit in his wheel chair and type his life onto blank pages. Maybe he didn't realize that thousands of readers would be looking into his soul when they read those very words one day and then years later when his life would be replayed on the silver screen by a firecracker and knock-out actor named Tom Cruise. I'm so glad that Kovic decided to but his thoughts, memories and opinions on paper.
The layout is nicely done with plenty of time and detail taken for each aspect of Kovic's life. The book is a quick read but I enjoyed savoring every word and letting the scenes play out in my imagination. The reader gets to know Kovic as a child with patriotic dreams that blossom early in his mind and heart. Dreams that lead him to join the U.S. Marine Corps and then to the jungles, rice fields and beaches of Vietnam. It's there where his adult story begins. It may be tough to read for the weak stomach readers out there but Kovic's descriptions of life, battle, death and pain in Vietnam are very vivid. His use of imagery was so brilliant in my mind's eye.
After Kovic sustains the devastating wounds to his psyche and later to his body that leave him without the use of his body from the chest down the horrors truly begin for him. He is sent to a VA Hospital in Bronx, NY for treatment and recovery. The conditions in that hospital are worse than hell on earth. The fact that Kovic's beloved government and country weren't supplying the funds necessary to help the wounded of a war it continually funded blew his mind. Kovic eventually made it part of his life's work to speak out against the ill-treatment of U.S. Veterans in VA hospitals and the conditions they were helplessly forced to endure.
Born On The Fourth Of July unfortunately is a timeless and relative story in today's world. I am glad that I read Born On The Fourth Of July (I did watch it On Demand as soon as I finished the last page this morning) because it is a true life glimpse into our country's history and into the life of a man who almost gave all to his country but continues to try to give all to his fellow citizens.
on October 22, 2003
This book is not the movie, which I would not let children watch because of its graphic sexual content. The book was a clean, even noble, discussion of Ron Kovic's early optimism in life and his later disillusionment with the war and the government's treatment of veterans.
This book is the story of Mr. Kovic's early all-American years before the war, his war experiences, his injury experiences, and his changes of heart that drove him to activism.
I would love to read a second volume of Mr. Kovic's life story and get an update on his life to date.
on June 6, 2012
When the movie with Tom Cruise first appeared, I was perhaps 8 or 9 years old. Being that young, I had no idea of the importance of the movie. I thought it was more comical when Tom Cruise was yelling, "Penis" in the house. I was more excited about the action sequences than what they really meant.
Grown up now, and being the generation that goes to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I had a new look on the film. When Ron, who was played by Tom Cruise, was searching the village, I felt pain and panic. When he shot that other fellow soldier by accident, I felt a sadness. Even more so I felt extreme disgust and anger when Ron came back to a VA hospital that they could care less that he can't walk or that he's laying in his own waste.
I think we were all blind once. You see on TV new gadgets and weapons that's suppose to make life easier for a fellow soldier. What they don't show you is what these weapons do to a actual person. Someone who is alive and thinking and breathing. These weapons are developed with the idea of spending millions of dollars to make sure that they hit the bad guys. Then you see the destruction it leaves behind with families torn apart, or children in pieces. And you wonder why?
Even more surprising, they spend millions of dollars on these weapons of destruction, yet they don't spend a dime on healing the soldiers that used these weapons. The administration takes careful measure to make sure that you do not see the disabled. Even more so media only reports disabled people who have done well and can be shown in good light on tv with their families. You don't see the truly disabled, the ones that can't walk or talk or don't have a fully functional brain anymore. These people are carefully hidden away and dismissed as crazed lunatics.
I think Ron has many valid points in his book. I felt Ron was correct in saying that we live in a nation that glorifies war but yet we don't want to live with the results or the consequences of those actions. Even more so, when we send thousands of troops oversea to an unknown land to fight something that isn't clear, then we really should ask ourselves what is going on. Whether there is an alternative? Or if it should even be discussed.
I felt that Ron is right that we as a nation tells "lies." I didn't grow up during Vietnam, but I did grow up in the 9-11 era. I felt that yes, we should get the people who did this to justice but I felt at the same time we're fighting a war that really accomplished nothing at all. I felt Ron's words were truer than ever when he says that the "lies" told here is that we should honor America by being a soldier and fight corruption but at the same time we have no honor in killing the wrong people, people who had nothing to do with it.
I feel that sadly Ron's word will not hit people until it's too late. A generation of people fought Vietnam. They are now in their 60s and sad to say the lessons they learned is not passed down. I suppose we can't live in "peace" by ignoring bad people but the answer is not always to go after them. It's sort of like to protect your house from robbers, you should go invade and take over a bad part of the city killing anyone that dare looks like they could rob your house. Everyone knows this is untrue, yet that is essentially what we're doing.
My recommendation is to read the book by Ron. I feel that it goes into a bit of detail better than the movie. Also the movie was a bit different but I think it captured the meaning of the book. I bought it on my kindle and felt it was a good short read but one that has a lot of meaning.