Former Marine Ron Kovic was arguably the nation’s most famous Vietnam veteran from the mid-seventies through the late eighties on the strength of his 1976 primal scream of a memoir, Born on the Fourth of July, which came out in 1976, and the Oliver Stone movie of the same name, which hit the multiplexes in 1989 (with Tom Cruise playing Kovic).
The book, which became a big bestseller, was reissued in July—the 40th anniversary of its publication—by Akashic Books (224 pp., $26.95, hardcover; $15.95, paper), with a new, brief introduction by Bruce Springsteen. The big rock star became a strong supporter of Vietnam War veterans after meeting Kovic in 1978. Springsteen writes that after reading the book, he ran into Kovic in Los Angeles. The two men hit it off and Kovic took him to the Venice Vet Center to meet a group of other Vietnam veterans.
“It was unforgettable and sparked my interest in veterans’ affairs,” Springsteen writes, which “led to our concert in support of Vietnam veterans” in 1981 in L.A. Springsteen gave $100,000 of the proceeds of that memorable concert to a young, fledgling Vietnam War veterans organization–Vietnam Veterans of America—a staggering sum that helped rescue VVA from the precipice of financial ruin.
Born on the Fourth of July is a short book that chronicles Kovic’s life beginning with his All-American fifties upbringing on Long Island, through his time as a gung-ho Marine who volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam, and into his life battling the VA and becoming an antiwar activist after he was severely wounded and paralyzed from the chest down. It’s a very moving book, told in bitter and emotional bursts.
Look for our review of Kovic’s second memoir, Hurricane Street, in the “Books in Review” column in the upcoming September/October print edition of The VVA Veteran.