After leaving the hospital, Kovic attended Hofstra University on the GI Bill and began to read and listen to other points of view. His antiwar activism was inspired by the 1970 shootings at Kent State University, and he soon attended his first demonstration.
It was also at Hofstra that Kovic picked up a copy of All Quiet on the Western Front and thought, "I've got to write a book like this someday. I've got to tell my story."
By the time his book was published in 1976, Kovic was fully engaged in the antiwar movement, and he burst onto the national stage when he disrupted Richard Nixon's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in Miami in 1972.
That activism continues to this day. He's been arrested a dozen times over the years, but not recently. War is the "worst possible way" to solve problems, he said. "I'm tired of seeing our young men and women's lives wasted in senseless wars. It's about time that we respect these precious young men and women who are serving our country and to bring them home now and not squander their lives."
Energized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, he spoke to the Occupy group in Los Angeles several times.
In his apartment just blocks from the ocean, he spends time working on a sequel to Born on the Fourth of July. Never married, he enjoys going to the movies with his girlfriend of nearly five years. He also volunteers his time at the Long Beach veterans hospital, where he's helping to set up a peer program for wounded veterans.
The nightmares have all but disappeared for Kovic, but being in a wheelchair for nearly 44 years has meant dealing with increasing physical pain and difficulty sleeping. His sense of humor has sustained him, he said.
For Kovic, each day is precious. "I think that the thrill of living, of being alive, the preciousness of life — it will continue to sustain me for as long as I'm here. I'm going to try to be here as long as I possibly can, and I'm going to try to give back to a world that I feel has been very kind and gracious to me for as long as I can."
Also of interest: Veterans face jobless challenges. >>
Kitty Bennett is a news researcher and writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla.