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Ronald Lawrence Kovic (born July 4, 1946) is an anti-war activist, 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. Kovic received the Golden Globe Award for Best Screenplay on January 20, 1990, exactly 22 years to the day that he was shot and paralyzed in the Vietnam War. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay (Kovic and Stone co-wrote the screenplay for Born on the Fourth of July). 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.

Overview

Kovic was born in Ladysmith, Wisconsinmarker, and was raised in Massapequa, New Yorkmarker in a Croatian American Roman Catholic household. Inspired by President John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country", he joined the United States Marine Corps while in high school in September 1964 and was assigned to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Islandmarker, South Carolinamarker for thirteen 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 Lejeunemarker, North Carolinamarker for advanced combat training. He returned home to Massapequa in late December 1964 just in time for Christmas. After several weeks leave Kovic was assigned to the Marine Corps Barracks, 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 group, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. 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 the Marine Corps 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 Pointmarker, North Carolina. Several months later he volunteered to return to Vietnam a second time.

He is a decorated U.S. Marine who served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War, where he was awarded the Bronze Star with "V" device for valor and the Purple Heart. 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 Nangmarker.

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 shootingsmarker in May 1970, and gave his first speech against the war at Levittown Memorial High School in Levittownmarker, Long Islandmarker, 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 war demonstration at an Orange County, Californiamarker 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 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 Affairsmarker (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.marker, and meet with the veterans. The hunger strike ended soon after that. Several months later Johnson resigned.

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. 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. He is currently an outspoken critic of the Iraq War. In November 2003, he joined protests in Londonmarker 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 Squaremarker, where a huge rally was held protesting the visit of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Ron 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 Iraq war.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.

On January 20, 2008, Kovic celebrated his 40th anniversary of having been shot and paralyzed in the Vietnam War. Kovic stated in March 2005 that "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 8 April 2009, Kovic joined British MP and activist George Galloway to launch Viva Palestina USA, an American branch of Viva Palestina. Kovic will co-lead with Mr.Galloway a humanitarian relief convoy to the Gaza Strip in early July, 2009.

Kovic lives in Redondo Beach, Californiamarker, 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, sometime in the spring of 2009. On January 20, 2009, Ron Kovic marked the 41st anniversary of his wounding and paralysis in the Vietnam War.

Quotes



  • "We who have witnessed the obscenity of war and experienced its horror and terrible consequences have an obligation to rise above our pain and suffering and turn the tragedy of our lives into a triumph."


  • "I have come to believe there is nothing in the lives of human beings more terrifying than war and nothing more important than for those of us who have experienced it to share its awful truth."


  • "War is not the answer. Violence is not the solution. A more peaceful world is possible."


  • "I did not give three-quarters of my body in Vietnam in 1968, forty years ago, to be put inside of a cage. I’m going to speak. I’m going to raise my voice against this war, and I refuse to be silenced. And we refuse to be silenced. We’re growing stronger every day. This is going to become one of the most powerful antiwar movements in the history of this country."- Speaking at the DNC in Denvermarker, Coloradomarker.
  • "You have burned too many babies. You have lied to us too long. You may have taken my body, but you'll never take my mind!" 1972 Anti War protest speech.


Films



See also



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