By Tami Jackson
Richard Botkin served active in the Marines from 1980 – 1983, then 12 years in the reserves. Botkin is a Marine’s Marine and, when this true story fell in his lap, he felt compelled to make it his mission.
Though his service post-dates the Vietnam War, many of the men who mentored Rich Botkin, heroes he greatly admires, were Vietnam Veterans.
In Ride the Thunder, Botkin attempts to give a “30,000 foot view of and a fighting hole view of the war through the experiences of … 3 American Marine officers and … 2 South Vietnamese officers.”
The book, the story, highlights the difference between the North Vietnamese (NVA…the Communists) and the South Vietnamese (RVN) — the RVN were good guys. Incredibly hard-fighting good guys.
Ride the Thunder instructs about the Covan (trusted advisors), the TQLC (RVN Marines) and more, about which the average American is woefully uninformed.
Protagonists in Ride the Thunder include Americans (the late) USMC Col. John Ripley, USMC Col (Ret) Gerry Turley, USMC Capt George Philip, and Vietnamese Marine LtCol Le Ba Binh (“the Chesty Puller of the Vietnamese Marine Corps”) and Vietnamese Marine Nguyen Luong.
Ride the Thunder spans the years of American involvement in the war (1954 – 1975), with special emphasis on American and Vietnamese Marines. A central event in the book is the Easter Offensive, which was much bigger (by about 50%) than the better known Tet Offensive.
Radio talk show host and Botkin friend, Hugh Hewitt, divides the story into: pre-Tet; Tet; Tet to the Easter Offensive; Easter Offensive to collapse; and what happens in Vietnam afterwards.
In the days of the Vietnam War, America was experiencing unprecedented demonstrations against the war, spurred on by mis-reporting by many in media, including the venerable and trusted Walter Cronkite.
Subsequent generations of Americans have been taught that Vietnam was unwinnable, that the US involvement was ignoble, that our military were unheroic in that conflict…all of which are lies and distortions.
Why was Vietnam lost?
Many contributing factors, but 2 were chief among them.
The likes of Cronkite, John Kerry, and Jane Fonda helped form an intensely negative national perception of the war. And the very liberal 93rd Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment (prohibited direct US involvement) and the Foreign Assistance Act of 1974 (prohibited US funding and indirect support), thereby pulled the plug on all US support and funding.
The title of the book, and now the movie, comes from the famous Teddy Roosevelt “Man in the Arena” speech of April 23, 1910.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of the great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.
Ride the Thunder, the book, is the culmination of 5 years of writing, 1 year of editing, 4 trips to Vietnam, thousands of hours interviewing American and South Vietnamese Marines. And the book made the prestigious USMC Commandant’s Reading List.
The movie, which is approximately 60% re-enactment and 40% interviews, has been 4 years in the works.
Botkin partnered with Fred Koster (screen writer and director), of Koster Films, and through private funding they have brought the essence of the book to the big screen.
But unlike so many film productions, Ride the Thunder has 2-fold high purpose: 1) to change the mis-remembrance of the Vietnam War; and 2) to give those U.S. and South Vietnamese Veterans, who valiantly fought against the Communists, a better place in history.
As one would expect from a Marine, the branch whose mascot is USMC Lance Corporal Chesty XIV, an English bulldog, Richard Botkin was unwavering in his pursuit to complete the book, then the film.
Semper Fi — always faithful — is more than just a Marine Corps motto for Botkin, as with all Marines, it is a way of life. A way of living such that words count and actions back them up.
Rich Botkin’s dream, to take back the much-maligned history of the Vietnam War, and to restore the rightful honor due those Americans and South Vietnamese who served there, has been years in the making.
But on Friday, March 27, that righteous dream will become a reality as Ride the Thunder movie premieres in Southern California, at the Westminster Regency 10. And hopefully, the success in Westminster will spearhead a national release.
Ride the Thunder movie is a potent undertaking: a true Vietnam War story of honor and triumph.
And it is the first shot in the battle Botkin, Koster and the rest of Ride the Thunder team, intend to win. A battle to correct history and give those men who knew “the great enthusiasms, the great devotions…” who spent themselves “…in a worthy cause” something they have not had.
This dream, this movie, will award a long-overdue place of honor to “the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.”