Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic

An excerpt from the book Born on the Fourth of July by Ron Kovic a soldier's account and memoir of his time in the Vietnam War.

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY by Ron Kovic. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976.

About the Book: Ron Kovic was a normal all-American boy, born July 4, 1946. He grew up in Massapequa, Long Island, rooted for the Yankees, and fantasized about becoming a war hero like John Wayne. The war in Vietnam gave him his chance, and as soon as he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Marines. On the front lines, Kovic distinguished himself as an ardent fighter, killing his quota of Vietnamese before being wounded and permanently disabled--paralyzed from the chest down. His story, including his return to civilian society, is told with great honesty and unusual sensitivity.

From the Book:

I was in Vietnam when I first heard about the thousands of people protesting the war in the streets of America. I didn't want to believe it at first-- people protesting against us when we were putting our lives on the line for our country. The men in my outfit used to talk about it a lot. How could they do this to us? Many of us would not be coming back and many others would be wounded or maimed. We swore they would pay, the hippies and draft-card burners. They would pay if we ever ran into them.

But the hospital had changed all that. It was the end of whatever belief I'd still had in what I'd done in Vietnam. Now I wanted to know what I had lost my legs for, why I and the others had gone at all. But it was still very hard for me to think of speaking out against the war, to think of joining those I'd once called traitors...

I was sitting alone in my apartment listening to the radio when I first heard the news about Kent State. Four students had just been shot in a demonstration against the invasion of Cambodia. For a moment there was a shock through my body. I felt like crying....

[At the Washington demonstration] we listened as the speakers one after another denounced the invasion of Cambodia and the slaying of the students at Kent State ...

I remember how the police came later that day, very suddenly, when we were watching the sun go down--a blue legion of police in cars and on motorcycles and others with angry faces on big horses ... I couldn't understand why this was happening, why the police would attack the people, running them into the grass with their horses and beating them with their clubs. Two or three horses charged into the crowd at full gallop, driving the invading army into retreat toward the Lincoln Memorial....

When we got to the memorial, I remember looking at Lincoln's face and reading the words carved on the walls in back of him. I felt certain that if he were alive he would be there with us.

I told Skip that I was never going to be the same. The demonstration had stirred something in my mind that would be there from now on. It was so very different from boot camp and fighting in the war. There was a togetherness, just as there had been in Vietnam, but it was a togetherness of a different kind of people and for a much different reason. In the war we were killing and maiming people. In Washington on that Saturday afternoon in May we were trying to heal them and set them free.

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