Born on the Fourth of July was directed by Oliver Stone, the second film by Stone that documents the Vietnam War from the perspective of a soldier. Stone used his own experiences as a soldier in Vietnam to reconstruct both the settings and the social aspects from this era with great accuracy. He understood the emotional hardships that soldiers went through during and after the war and this film, as well as his earlier Platoon, connects to viewers with incredible power. For Stone, directing Platoon and Born was a healing mechanism and a way to increase awareness of veterans.
Prior to the production of Born, Stone met one Vietnam veteran in particular who changed his life. Ron Kovic, author of the autobiographical Born on the Fourth of July (New York: Pocket Books, 1976) lost the use of his legs from an injury in Vietnam. Kovic entered the war with great optimism for the cause just like many other young men his age. Unfortunately, Kovic’s tours of duty in Vietnam took a heavy toll on his mental and physical health, and he returns home to Massapequa, Long Island, a changed man. The book Born on the Fourth of July outlines Kovic’s life as both civilian and soldier. More importantly, it solidifies Kovic’s importance as both a historian and an advocate for veterans everywhere. Together, Ron Kovic and Oliver Stone revealed the harsh realities of the Vietnam War to Americans.
Although the film is based on Kovic’s autobiography, there are several differences. The Born on the Fourth of July film, for example, documents Kovic's life beginning with his childhood in Massapequa, Long Island. We meet him as a bright-eyed baseball player and watch as he grows into a popular athlete in his high school. Following graduation, Kovic enlists in the Marines and the film continues in chronological order from his injury to his work as an activist. The Born on the Fourth of July book contains similar events, but the order in which they are presented is very different. The first chapter brings us to the ambush in Vietnam when Kovic is shot and paralyzed. From this intense scene, the book documents Kovic's experiences in two veterans’ hospitals. In between his Vietnam memories, Kovic inserts glimpses of his childhood, particularly high school and enlisting in the Marines.
There are a few points that many critiques argue are very different between the book and the movie. First, there is no mention of Kovic's girlfriend in the book. Though Donna has a strong presence in the film, she is not a character in Kovic's own version. Also, in the movie, Kovic visits Wilson’s parents several years after the war, but there is no documentation of this event in the book. Despite these few but significant differences (for instance, the visit to Wilson's parents is an important step in his healing), Stone worked hard to display history with great accuracy, not redefine it. He and Ron Kovic developed a friendship through their similarities as Vietnam veterans and artists. This relationship helped Stone direct Born on the Fourth of July in a manner that reflected Ron Kovic’s story and the story of all Vietnam veterans.