When Jane Fonda is relaxing in Megève after filming Barbarella, in late December 1967, Ron Kovic is in full gear in the demilitarized zone between North and South Vietnam. This is his second round of fighting. The young sailor enlisted in 1964, at the end of his high school studies in Massapequa (New York). Proud to follow in his parents footsteps. “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 caught him in the cradle.
On his first deployment, the GI received the rank of sergeant and a medal commemorating his twenty-two reconnaissance missions into enemy territory. On his return to the United States, he was surprised to see that the atmosphere had changed greatly in Lyndon Johnson’s America. Demonstrators march against the war, insult the military, challenge the government. Ron insists on returning to the front. “I wanted to show the hippies what patriotism is, says the ex-Marine, in his wheelchair. Prove that the war is winnable. »
This time the 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. » In the second salvo, he has the impression that a “express train” collided with his body. “From the waist down, everything is gone. » Ron is rescued by a friend. He was then transferred from one overcrowded military hospital to another. To this recovery center where he continues, on his crutches, unable to accept 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, calmly recounts his life in front of his favorite dish, scallops, which his girlfriend, TerriAnn Ferren, helps prepare. selected on the plate. It’s not the life he dreamed of, but he survived and found his calling when so many friends who suffered the same injuries took their own lives. As soon as he was able to leave the hospital, Ron became one of the spokesmen for the soldiers against the war. He railed against the Veterans Administration and the rat-infested hospitals into which it herds crippled heroes.
“I have gained a conscience”
Ron wrote his Memoirs, met Régis Debray, dined with Norman Mailer, inspired Bruce Springsteen, awarded the Purple Heart to hero Tom Cruise, who plays his character in Born on July 4th (1989), by Oliver Stone. And he remained, of course, Jane Fonda’s friend, having met on a platform at Claremont University, near Los Angeles. He stepped in front of her. “I may have lost my body. But I have gained a conscience! », had started to the demonstrators. That day, the actress promises to make a film about these young soldiers that the United States has failed. From working-class, rural America, sons of families without the money or social skills to escape Vietnam. It will take him six years to get there.
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