When Jane Fonda is resting in Megève after filming Barbarelleat the end of December 1967, Ron Kovic is in full maquis in the demilitarized zone between the north and the south of Vietnam. This is his second round in combat. The young marine enlisted in 1964, at the end of his secondary studies in Massapequa (New York). Proud to follow in the footsteps of his parents. “They met in the Navy. They both volunteered after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.he says. And Ron was born on the 4th of July, the American National Day. Patriotism seized him in the cradle.
On his first deployment, the GI received the rank of sergeant and a medal celebrating his twenty-two reconnaissance missions in enemy territory. On his return to the United States, he was surprised to find the atmosphere much changed in Lyndon Johnson’s America. Demonstrators march against the war, insult the army, challenge the government. Ron insists on returning to the front. “I wanted to show the hippies what patriotism is, says the former marine, in his wheelchair. Prove that the war is winnable. »
This time, war will have the upper hand. On January 20, 1968, during a mission, Sergeant Kovic was hit by a first bullet in the heel. “I got up and left with my rifle. I still wanted to be a hero. » At the second salvo, he has the impression that a “express trains” collided with his body. “From the waist down, it’s all gone. » Ron is saved by a comrade. Then transferred from one overcrowded military hospital to another. Until this convalescent center where he persists, with his crutches, unable to admit that he will never walk again.
Half a century has passed. On this blustery spring, at Old Tony’s restaurant in Redondo Beach, Southern California, Ron Kovic, 76, quietly recounts his life in front of his favorite dish, scallops, which his girlfriend, TerriAnn Ferren, helps to pick on the plate. It wasn’t the life he dreamed of, but he survived and found his calling, when so many friends who suffered the same injuries committed suicide. As soon as he was able to leave the hospital, Ron became one of the spokespersons for soldiers against the war. He railed against the Veterans Administration and the rat-infested hospitals in which it herds maimed heroes.
“I gained a conscience”
Ron wrote his Memoirs, met Régis Debray, dined with Norman Mailer, inspired Bruce Springsteen, gave his hero’s Purple Heart Medal to Tom Cruise, who plays his character in Born on July 4 (1989), by Oliver Stone. And he remained, of course, the friend of Jane Fonda, met on a platform at Claremont University, near Los Angeles. He came before her. “I may have lost my body. But I have gained a conscience! », he had launched to the demonstrators. That day, the actress promises to make a film about these young soldiers that the United States has let down. From working class, rural America, sons of families with neither the money nor the social skills to escape Vietnam. It will take him six years to get there.
You have 84.22% of this article left to read. The following is for subscribers only.