On January 20, 1968, while leading a reconnaissance force of battalion scouts from the 1st Amtrac Battalion just north of the Cua Viet River in the vicinity of the village of My Loc, in the Demilitarized Zone, Kovic's squad came into contact with the NVA 803rd Regiment and elements of a Viet Cong battalion that was besieging the village; he was shot by NVA soldiers while leading his rifle squad across an open area, attempting to aid the South Vietnamese Popular Force unit in the village. Deserted by most of his unit, he was shot first in the right foot, which tore out the back of his heel, then again through the right shoulder, suffering a collapsed lung and a spinal cord injury that left him paralyzed from the chest down. The first Marine that tried to save him was shot through the heart and killed, before a second Marine carried Kovic to safety through heavy enemy fire. Kovic then spent a week in an intensive care ward in Da Nang. As a result of his service and injuries in the conflict, Kovic was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" for heroism in battle and the Purple Heart Medal.