Ron Kovic reunites with fellow Marine at Pages bookstore
by David Mendez
On January 20, 1968, Ron Kovic was shot twice as he and a squad of his fellow Marines battled Viet Cong forces in Cua Viet. The first shot went into his right foot, tearing apart his heel. The second went through his right shoulder, collapsing his lung and damaging his spinal cord, paralyzing him from the chest down.
Forty-eight years later, on Thursday at Manhattan Beach’s Pages bookstore, Kovic saw Rudy Molina, the man who bandaged his wounds in the field and pulled him out of the line of fire, for the first time since that night.
“It brought back a lot of memories,” Molina said. “I’m glad he’s here and he’s made it.”
The occasion was a reading of Kovic’s new book, “Hurricane Street,” which chronicles a 17-day sit-in and hunger strike at the office of then-United States Senator Alan Cranston, protesting to improve the lives of veterans.
Kovic took time to read passages from “Hurricane Street” as well as his best-selling “Born on the Fourth of July,” moving the audience of the intimate reading to tears and applause.
The reading also inspired discussion of the plight U.S. military veterans still face today. One woman, a public defender who focuses on defending veterans, brought forward the challenges she and her colleagues face daily.
“We’re overwhelmed; there aren’t enough resources,” she said. “And there doesn’t seem to be enough mental health care upon [veterans’] return.”
“We’re not a poor country; we’ve spent over $1 trillion fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq…but don’t we see these as crises?” he said. “As citizens, we’re not responding. We’re not saving that man out there in the middle of the lake…we’re letting him drown.”
John Kaper, of Gardena, came to the reading as a spur-of-the-moment decision. A wounded Vietnam veteran himself, Kaper suffered a gunshot wound that severed his femoral artery.
“It’s was a flashback to the experiences I had coming back from Vietnam…How can you put someone into a helicopter, brains running down their neck and not feel an investment?” Kaper said. “Once you’re a Marine, there’s that bond between you, no matter who you are. That respect is what brought me out here.”
After the reading had finished and the books had been signed, Kovic said that he was pleased with the event.
“I’m grateful that people are interested,” Kovic said. “We can’t do enough for our veterans.”
But Molina’s appearance registered most deeply with the author, who repeatedly referenced Molina throughout the night. Despite a 2013 Seattle Times report in which Molina challenged details from the firefight that paralyzed Kovic, the two men were grateful to cross paths again.
“It was emotional — we were both crying,” Molina said of their reunion. “It was a beautiful thing.”