Not much time passes for baby boomers without new reminders of the 60s, the decade that shaped our generation. Contributor Erin O’Brien walked right into one of those memories when she was merely out doing chores in her home town of Redondo Beach, California. It became a memory of love and peace.
On a seemingly ordinary Thursday, I left the post office and strolled into a favorite store a few doors down. It was unusual to hear a man’s voice inside, but I discovered it belonged to someone I recognized from around town, whose cologne I remembered.
The clerk introduced us. “I’m Ron,” he said, as in Ron, Born on the Fourth of July, Kovic. My Thursday became suddenly very far from ordinary.
We talked as writers — one published, one fledgling. He asked my name, which is O’Brien. “I’m Irish, too,” he shared. We spoke of authors, Tom Cruise’s best roles, wearing a signature cologne, Irish storytelling, knowing you have a gift for writing, Vietnam veterans, faith. “I can’t believe everything that has happened to me in my life, but I’m so glad it happened to me,” he smiled.
He noticed the purse I was considering and urged me to get it. Then he invited me as his guest to a special July 4th screening of his film with a Q & A with director Oliver Stone, also a Vietnam vet, and himself. “You’d better raise your hand,” he added.
I’m an author groupie. I’ve stood in line to meet Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes in hand, been photographed at Shakespeare’s house at Stratford-Upon-Avon, Oscar Wilde’s house in Dublin, and interrupted John Steinbeck’s gardener over the author’s backyard fence in Northern California. This time though, I was invited.
At the theater, Ron remembered me. I wished him a happy birthday. “This is the one I told you about,” he told his girlfriend, also a writer, “the one I met in the store when I was buying you that purse.” She and I shook hands. He thanked me for coming, signed my book, and kissed me on the cheek like an old friend.
The disturbing, flashing war images onscreen, mixed with the smell of artificially buttered popcorn in close quarters, was a stomach-churning combination. “I’m sick,” I mouthed to my husband, and tried to be inconspicuous as I left our row, carrying my autographed book, camera, and red-white-and-blue purse, to the back of the full theater, where I found a spot on the floor in an alcove. Fanning myself with my stars and stripes scarf, I realized I’d plunked down right next to Ron’s wheelchair. I spied an empty seat which I took behind him, and I realized, Oliver Stone was there.
In the darkness, as their film ended, they embraced, comrades in arms.
Ron Kovic was a boy with dreams, from an idyllic Norman Rockwell childhood, who lived through a nightmare— not just the war, but his long recovery.
“I now believe I have suffered for a reason and in many ways I have found that reason in my commitment to peace and nonviolence. My life has been a blessing in disguise, even with the pain and great difficulty that my physical disability continues to bring. It is a blessing to speak on behalf of peace, to be able to reach such a great number of people.”
Ron Kovic’s book …