At least one highly visible war veteran wasn't impressed with the Carter administration's pitch last Veteran's Day to Vietnam vets. He's Ron Kovic, the paralyzed Vietnam vet and author of the bitter autobiography, Born on the Fourth of July. During an address to about 400 people at the Mayflower Hotel on May 31, the president's assistant for intergovernmental affairs, Jack Watson, praised veterans for their sacrifices and talked of the need to sacrifice again in these times of inflation and energy crisis.
Watson's speech irritated some Vietnam vets who found it condescending and an appeal to make additional sacrifices without acknowledging the country's debt to them.
Kovic began to demand from his wheelchair in the audience to talk with Watson after his speech. One of Watson's assistants who deals with veteran's affairs, William Lawson, began arguing with Kovic, finally picking up a spoon and waving it at Kovic.
"I've seen Ron upset before, but never more so than this," said his friend Rusty Lindley. "He flashed back to where he was in the Kingsbridge VA hospital 10 years ago.... It really hit him when Lawson started to badger and harass him, because he remembered feeling so helpless in that hospital."
(A Life magazine article on the dirty, overcrowded and understaffed conditions at Kingsbridge led to congressional hearings during which disabled vet Max Cleland testified. Cleland now heads the Veterans Administration.)
Kovic could not be reached for comment. Lindley says these days Kovic does not live in one place very long, that he feels he must always be packed and ready to move to another friend's house in another city.
Why? Lindley offers a possible explanation with which he says Kovic agrees. He reads from a study conducted by a Cleveland State University psychologist of disabled vets: "They equate immobility, the loss of freedom to maneuver, to deal, to make something happen, with death and its imprint in the memory of lost buddies," wrote Dr. John P. Wilson. "Death, if nothing else, is immobility and disintegration." CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Douglas Chevalier