Book Review ~ Born On The Fourth Of July by Ron Kovic

Born on the Fourth of July

Summary from Wikipedia ~  is the best-selling autobiography of Ron Kovic, a paralyzed Vietnam War veteran who became an anti-war activist. Kovic was born on July 4, 1946, and his book’s ironic title echoed a famous line from George M. Cohan’s patriotic 1904 song, “The Yankee Doodle Boy” (also known as “Yankee Doodle Dandy”). The book was adapted into a 1989 Academy Award winning film of the same name co-written by Oliver Stone and Ron Kovic, starring Tom Cruise as Kovic.

 I had been wanting to watch Born On The Fourth Of July again and for the first time in twenty years (it came out in 1989!) lately but instead I decided to read the book first and then watch the Academy Award winning movie.  I’m glad I did!  Ron Kovic retells his childhood, high school years as a competitive wrestler, his dreams and hopes of becoming a great Marine and then the transformative years he endured in the U.S. Marine Corps while fighting for his beloved country in Vietnam.  Transformative is the word I choose to describe those years Ron Kovic trained, fought, gave three-quarters of his body for his country in a war zone thirteen thousand miles from the land he loved and then fought against his fellow Americans for the respect and care he, as a Vietnam Vet, deserved but wasn’t receiving. 

Ron Kovic states in the introduction of his heartbreaking, stoic and memorable memoir that he wrote Born On The Fourth Of July in “one month, three weeks, and two days, on a forty-two-dollar manual typewriter.”  I can’t imagine how liberating, horrific, sad and therapeutic it must have been for Kovic to sit in his wheel chair and type his life onto blank pages.  Maybe he didn’t realize that thousands of readers would be looking into his soul when they read those very words one day and then years later when his life would be replayed on the silver screen by a firecracker and knock-out actor named Tom Cruise.  I’m so glad that Kovic decided to but his thoughts, memories and opinions on paper. 

The layout is nicely done with plenty of time and detail taken for each aspect of Kovic’s life.  The book is a quick read but I enjoyed savoring every word and letting the scenes play out in my imagination.   The reader gets to know Kovic as a child with patriotic dreams that blossom early in his mind and heart.  Dreams that lead him to join the U.S. Marine Corps and then to the jungles, rice fields and beaches of Vietnam.  It’s there where his adult story begins.  It may be tough to read for the weak stomach readers out there but Kovic’s descriptions of life, battle, death and pain in Vietnam are very vivid.  His use of imagery was so brilliant in my mind’s eye. 

After Kovic sustains the devastating wounds to his psyche and later to his body that leave him without the use of his body from the chest down the horrors truly begin for him.  He is sent to a VA Hospital in Bronx, NY for treatment and recovery.  The conditions in that hospital are worse than hell on earth.  The fact that Kovic’s beloved government and country weren’t supplying the funds necessary to help the wounded of a war it continually funded blew his mind.  Kovic eventually made it part of his life’s work to speak out against the ill-treatment of U.S. Veterans in VA hospitals and the conditions they were helplessly forced to endure. 

“When I got back to the tent, Michaelson told me he would see me in heaven after today.  He was to die that afternoon.  Every one of us seemed to have a funny feeling.  I kept thinking over and over that I was going to get hit – that nothing would be quite the same after this day.”

Born On The Fourth Of July unfortunately is a timeless and relative story in today’s world.  I am glad that I read Born On The Fourth Of July (I did watch it On Demand as soon as I finished the last page this morning) because it is a true life glimpse into our country’s history and into the life of a man who almost gave all to his country but continues to try to give all to his fellow citizens. 

{Rating 5 out of 5}

Book Review ~ The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Summary ~ The powerful and enduring work of fiction about men and war– now with more than two million copies in print. They carried malaria tablets, love letters, 28-pound mine detectors, dope, illustrated Bibles, each other. And if they made it home alive, they carried unrelenting images of a nightmarish war that history is only beginning to absorb. Since its first publication, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled Vietnam testament, a classic work of American literature, and a profound study of men at war that illuminates the capacity, and the limits.


I’ve said this before.  I believe that reading historical accounts be it memoirs, biographies or historical fiction is very important for our futures.  We, as a society and members of the human race, will always learn from our mistakes (hopefully) and reading things like The Things They Carried is a great way to do that.  The Vietnam War continues to affect Vets, families and countries.  The veterans of the Vietnam War live among us but face haunting memories everyday. Author Tim O’Brien allows us to take a look into his memory, as well as fellow soldiers from his platoon who lived through hell on earth during the Vietnam War. 

The Things They Carried was full of disgusting and disturbing stories of death, combat and possibly the worst conditions I could never have imagined.  Tim O’Brien’s book is also full of brotherly love that goes soul deep and laughter.  War happens, unfortunately, and before recent times it was our brothers, sons, fathers and uncles who fought on the battle lines.  One of my uncles was one of the lucky few who didn’t face battle during the war in Vietnam, but instead was drafted to help build churches in Vietnam because of his skills.  I have friend and former teacher from college who wasn’t so lucky.  He lost many friends to gunfire and unknown horrors and has lived with those memories all these years.  Thunder and lightning storms can create otherworldly horrors for him when we just hear and see nature’s fury.  

The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories from various magazines that were published in the eighties as well as short stories that when put together in this book create a story telling experience that transports the reader to the rice paddies, mountains and jungles of Vietnam during one of our countries most unpopular wars.  The men in this book, who’s stories Tim O’Brien tells so vividly, mostly started out as boys who were either drafted or had a dream of fighting for their country.  The stories will hit you and stay with you.  That’s a good thing, though some stories can be upsetting.  

{Rating ~ 4 out of 5}