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June 18, 1995|CHARLES SOLOMON

I AM ROE: My Life, Roe v. Wade and Freedom of Choice by Norma McCorvey with Andy Meisler (HarperPerennial: $11; 216 pp.) and SOLDIER OF THE YEAR: The Story of a Gay American Patriot by Jos e Zuniga (Pocket Books: $12; 324 pp.). Two memoirs chronicle the lives of Americans who found themselves at the center of bitter legal controversies. An abused divorcee, McCorvey sought an abortion when she became pregnant for the third time. As "Jane Roe," she became the client of the attorneys who challenged the Texas law banning abortion. Although her case produced a landmark Supreme Court decision, the ruling came long after McCorvey had the baby and put it up for adoption. She chose to remain anonymous until conservative challenges to Roe galvanized her into the realization, "The truth was, that my deepest secret--that I was a poor, half-crazy half-ordinary woman who'd been picked by fate to become a symbol of something much bigger and finer than herself--wasn't anything to be ashamed of." In contrast, Jose Zuniga chose to precipitate a controversy. The son of a family with a long tradition of military service, Zuniga performed assignments with distinction during the Persian Gulf War: He was named U.S. Army Soldier of the Year in 1993. Ironically, it was the sense of honor inculcated by the military that made it impossible for Zuniga to continue living a lie. He hoped that revealing his sexual orientation would prove that a gay man could serve his country honorably. He was summarily discharged, and damns President Clinton for failing to provide moral leadership, as Truman did in the desegregation of the military. Both books end on ominous notes: McCorvey is fighting to preserve the freedom guaranteed in Roe v. Wade despite ongoing assaults from the right; Zuniga waits for justice.

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