Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 film based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in the war and paralyzed from the chest down. It covers Kovic’s childhood on Long Island, his tours of duty in Vietnam, his injury and recovery in a Veterans Affairs hospital, his disillusionment with the war, and his eventual participation in antiwar protests and activism. Kovic’s transition from super patriot to anti-war activist is very believable.
Nevertheless, Born on the Fourth is not for some Friends as it contains violence, profanity, and nudity. It did receive critical acclaim and two academy awards. Personally, I find parts of the film melodramatic. The veterans’ hospital scenes are over-done, not to mention an orgy of sex and booze in Mexico. Moreover, the romance between Ron and Donna is sugary sweet. So, I hesitate to place the film on my list of ten-best movies. However, it’s clearly the best post-war film about Viet Nam that we have.
I confess that the movie brings back memories. Just as Ron Kovic became a marine in an act of bravado, likewise two of my college friends joined the marines on macho impulses. One of them came back with a foot missing. He took off his prosthesis while he applied for a handicapped parking permit on the U.T. campus. With his artificial foot on, he’d never have gotten a permit to park in the inner campus.
Some of my memories are painful. Although opposed to the War in Vietnam, I never protested or otherwise took time to work against it. I was preoccupied with my education as a future Classics scholar at Princeton University. Of course, mental illness destroyed that prospect. It did guarantee a medical exemption from military service; but I feel guilty about never resisting the draft or the war.
One day I want to go to Washington and visit the Vietnam Memorial. I will touch the memorial wall with the inscribed names of almost 60,000 dead and missing Vietnam veterans. And I will pray that those absent soldiers give me absolution for what I didn’t do to help. Though dead, I trust they live in God’s Unapproachable Light.
~ Richard Russell
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