See handout on Platoon.


The Novel

Ron Kovic, Born on the Fourth of July (1976) (New York: Pocket Books, 1977).


Meaning of the Title

The title of Kovic's memoir - a reference to his actual birthday, July 4th 1946, which falls on "America's birthday" 4/7/1776, i.e. the Declaration of Independence which ushered in a war of independence against the British Empire which lasted until 1783. The book was also published in 1976 - in the bicentennial of the revolutionary war. In Kovic's very partiotic family and small community on Long Island, New York 4th July parades were meticulously celebrated with a strong military association (a combination of ANZAC day and Australia day). RK was called "Yankee Doodle Dandy" by his mother in reference to the children's nursery rhyme with revolutionary war connections:

Yankee Doodle came to town a-riding on a pony

He stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni (contemporary slang for officer's insignia)

RK's denunciation at the Republican Party Convention in Miami 1972 is that "We are your Yankee Doodle Dandies come home." The book begins with:

I am the living death

the memorial day on wheels

I am your yankee doodle dandy

your john wayne come home

your fourth of july firecracker

exploding in the grave


  • Tom Cruise - Ron Kovic


1. The opening shots of the 4th July Parade in small-town America (Massapequa, Long Island) on the eve of the escalation of the war in Vietnam. A premonition of what is to come with shots of disabled veterans (from WW2 and Korea?) wincing as fire-crackers explode. RK returns for his own "welcome home the hero" July 4th parade in 1969 with very different results.

2. The appearance of Tom Berenger (Barnes from Platoon) as one of the Marine recruiting sergeants at RK's high school. Willem Dafoe (the Christ-like Elias) is also resurrected to appear as the disabled vet in Mexico.

3. The many references to Pres. John F. Kennedy who inspired RK's generation with its faith in the strength of American society and the need for and justice of the crusade against communism. In his inaugural address 20 January 1961 he stated:

Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country.

Note: the line from the Roman poet Horace (Wilfred Owen's "old lie") - "How sweet and fitting it is to die for one's country."

4. The many references to RK playing soldier as a child, his heroic ideal of John Wayne (war) and Mickey Mantle (baseball), the ethic of ultra-competitiveness instilled by his family and school (sport).

Every Saturday afternoon we'd all go down to the movie in the shopping centre and watch gigantic prehistoric birds breathe fire, and war movies with John Wayne and Audie Murphy. ... I'll never forget Audie Murphy in To Hell and Back (his own life story). At the end he jumps on top of a flaming tank that's just about to explode and grabs the machine gun blasting it into the German lines. He was so brave I have chills running up and down my back, wishing it were me up there. There were gasoline flames roaring around his legs, but he just kept firing that machine gun. It was the greatest movie I ever saw in my life.

Castiglia and I saw The Sands of Iwo Jima together. The Marine Corps hymn was playing in the background as we sat glued to our seats, humming the hymn together and watching Sergenant Stryker, played by John Wayne, charge up the hill and get killed just before he reached the top. And then they showed the men raising the flag on Iwo Jima with the marines' hymn still playing, and Castiglia and I cried in our seats. I loved the song so much, and every time I heard it I would think of John Wayne and the brave men who raised the flag on Iwo Jima that day. Like Mickey Mantle and the fabulous New York Yankees, John Wayne in The Sands of Iwo Jima became one of my heroes.

We'd go home and make up movies like the ones we'd just seen or the ones that were on TV night after night. We'd use our Christmas toys - the Matty Mattel machine guns and grenades, the little green plastic men with bazookas. They blasted holes through the enemy. They wiped them out at thirty feet just above the coffee table. They dug in on the front lawn and survived countless artillery attacks. They burned with high-propane lighter fluid and a quarter-gallon of gasoline or were thrown into the raging fires of autumn leaves blasting into a million pieces. (pp. 54-5)

...(recollecting an incident in VN) He had panicked with the rest of them that night and murdered his first man, but it wasn't the enemy, it wasn't the one they had all been taught and trained to kill, it wasn't the silhouette at the rifle range he had pumped holes in from five hundred yards, or the German soldiers with plastic machine guns in Sally's Woods (in Massapequa). He'd never figured it would happen this way. It never did in the movies. There were always the good guys and the bad guys, the cowboys and the Indians. There was always the enemy and the good guys and each of them killed the other. (pp. 194-5).

5. The brief appearance of Oliver Stone and his military adviser Cpt. Dye as a reporter and officer being interviewed for TV in Vietnam (also cameo in Platoon - Hitchcockism?)

6. The reference to RK's personal My Lai atrocity - the accidental killing of civilians in the confusion of a fire-fight.

7. The high incidence of death by "friendly fire" in modern war (VN and Gulf wars)

8. Once again the key moment in the American experience and memory of the VN war is the Tet offensive January 1968 (when RK is injured) and the growing protest movement which culminated in the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago and the shooting by National Guard of students at Kent State University, Ohio.

9. The accustation by RK that the war effort siphoned money away from the Veterans' Hospitals - resulting in the "chamber of horrors" he experienced in the Bronx VA.

10. Note the books on his table in the hotel room in Mexico: Dalton Trumbo, Johnny Got His Gun (1959, republished 1970, film 1971) and Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front (1930). The connections with RK are interesting: the former written by the screenwriter blacklisted in the McCarthy period, who wrote the screenplay for Spartacus, about an armless, legless, deaf, dum and blind US soldier in WW1 whose only wish is to be part of a circus side-show to show America the horrors of war (a request the authorities of course deny), book republished and made into a film at the end of the VN war. In RK's memoir he comes across the book at an anti-war demonstration at which the actor Donald Sutherland (who plays Hawkeye in M*A*S*H) reads passages thus inspiring RK to push towards the podium and speak out against the war publicly for the first time. The latter is the classic anti-war novel of the 20thC but also relevant to Stone/RK because of EMR's accusation that his generation ("the boys of the fifties", "a whole lost generation... of violence and madness, of dead Indians and drunken cowboys, or iron pipes full of matchheads" (pp. 170-71) was betrayed by its political and educational leaders who led them into war (RK blames his mother, his society, and JFK, (and God?)).

11. The picture of the growing polarisation of American society caused by the war - within RK's own family (the brother with long hair who sings Bob Dylan songs); the hippies and other protesters at the July 4th Parade.

12. The references to John Wayne - thoughts of him were going through his mind when he was hit, disability and hospital were "punishment" for failure for not being able to live up to his ideals.

13. The strong connection RK makes between manhood and heroism, war, sporting prowess. The worst that could happen to him is not to die but to lose his "manhood". (Compare the sniper's shooting in Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket). A sexual experience in Mexico is the beginning of his rebirth as a war protester (in the film) (along with reading Trumbo and Remarque in the book). Culminates in his protest at Republican Party Convention in Miami 1972.

14. The confrontations RK has as he progresses to an anti-war position: the ex-Marine who served at Iwo Jima in the poolroom; RK's Catholic and patriotic mother (most powerful scene in the film - RK rejects God, King and Country; reminds his mother of the biblical injuction "thou shallt not kill" (except communists?), confronts her with the physical aspect of his sacrifice for GKC).

15. The "Yankee Doodle" ending of the film"- RK gets to speak at the Democratic Party Convention in NY 1976 (Jimmy Carter, the outsider from Georgia is elected), thus fulfilling his mother's dream of his success (inspired by JFK's speech), his particpation and acceptence in the party political process is his "homecoming" and personal fulfillment.