First published at Soldier of Fortune
American soldiers weren’t the only ones performing heroically in the jungles of Vietnam. Vietnamese Marines, with their U.S. Marine advisers, were also there. This uncelebrated part of a turbulent war is the focus of “Ride the Thunder” — a film based on Richard Botkin’s book of the same name.
Area residents have a chance to take a rare look at this virtually unknown facet of the war when the film is shown at Harkins Theater… In fact, part of the movie was filmed in Prescott.
In “Ride the Thunder,” Marine infantry veteran Botkin tells of the tumultuous final days of the war, the political climate, and the men living it. The story centers on three Marines and their families, then-Lieutenant Colonel Gerry Turley, USMCR, as a senior adviser; Major Le Ba Binh, commander of the 3rd Battalion of the Vietnamese Marine Corps; and then-Captain John Ripley, an adviser to 3rd Battalion (of 1967’s Ripley’s Raiders).
Botkin, whose active duty service came after the Vietnam War, decided to write the book after falling into a story that was short at first, but ended up turning into a longer tale. He said he was moved to tell the truth of the war, stating that the Vietnamese have a compelling story and many Americans, he said, have an incomplete or inaccurate view of the war. Botkin said he thought he knew a little bit about it, but it took him years to understand that he didn’t really know.
“It’s been my observation that people don’t read. It’s going to be the film record out there that determines what Americans think of Vietnam and right now, that film record are films like ‘Apocalypse Now,’ ‘Deer Hunter,’ ‘Full Metal Jacket’ and ‘Platoon,” Botkin said.
“They’re scandalous, they’re great entertainment, but they’re far from the truth. And if we don’t do something now before all the people who were involved die, we’re going to lose that first person ability to tell the truth.”
Botkin said the book took him five years to write in his spare time, while making four trips to Vietnam for research and crisscrossing America to interview the book’s subjects. But in all that, he said it was never a burden and the people he met were wonderful people who love America.
For instance, he said the Vietnamese community is unlike any other group he’s met as he has seen that they have a special appreciation for freedom. He said the book’s main character fought for 13 straight years, was wounded nine times and was put in prison for 11 years when the war ended.
“And then he came to the United States with nothing, worked his tail off, and he’s comfortable here,” Botkin said. “Those are compelling stories, but his story is not unique in the Vietnamese community. He’s kind of a metaphor for the Vietnamese.”
The film was written and directed by Fred Koster, who echoed Botkin, stating that when he went into the project, he had the “typical” view of the Vietnam War. However, he added, after working on the project for two years, he said he sees the injustice toward the American soldiers and the Vietnamese people. He stated it is a wonderful thing to bring the truth out that many had been wronged for and said the story is to honor the veterans and Vietnamese with the truth.
Koster said the film honors the “good guys” in the field who fought heroically under incredibly difficult circumstances and exposes the “villains” who he said were the opportunists that took advantage of the war situation. He said the film is pro-American and for people who love America and are upset about what’s going on today.
“America is in a real struggle right now and we’re facing some big things we have to overcome and it’s my belief that the problems we’re overcoming today have roots in the Vietnam War,” Koster said. “It was a turning point in America and it wasn’t a good turning point, where it became a fad or stylish to hate America… it was a mismanaged war and out of it… a lot of people suffered.”
Botkin said he hopes people see the film and begin to look differently at the Vietnam War and consider history they’ve never learned before.