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Vietnam War: Little Saigon residents watch their history on screen

'Ride the Thunder' recalls heroics of U.S. and South Vietnamese fighters who held off a Communist invasion

These have been days of remembrance in Little Saigon with the screening of two films looking back at the Vietnam War at a suburban Orange County theater in the heart of the nation’s most prominent Vietnamese American community.

By Monday, hundreds of locals had posed on the red carpet inside the Regency Theatres in Westminster, snapping selfies with decorated veterans and cast members of the movie "Ride the Thunder."

The story of American and South Vietnamese fighters working side by side to hold off a Communist campaign known as the Easter Offensive, "Ride the Thunder" followed on the heels of “Last Days of Vietnam,” an Oscar-nominated documentary that also was screened in Little Saigon.

"This is incredible. This is a moment to bring people together. So many men showed bravery and selflessness on the battlefield that we could not ever forget," said Le Ba Binh, the lieutenant colonel who commanded the Soi Bien, or Wolves of the Sea. The film, and the book of the name, is based on his experience, as well as that of his American counterparts.

In the book, author Richard Botkin recounts the exploits of the U.S. Marines and their Vietnamese allies credited with preventing a Communist invasion of South Vietnam in 1972.

"They are the men who rode the thunder, almost saving a nation," Botkin said. "Not many Americans know these stories. Not many young Vietnamese Americans know this story.”

What unfolded on screen prompted tears and reflections from viewers, some who had returned to watch the film a second time -- with relatives in tow.

"What we might know a little of from history books is explained in the movie. It's a great lesson for the younger generation," said Mary Nguyen, a Santa Ana resident who brought her children to see the movie.

She and her family also showed up to watch "Last Days of Vietnam,” which drew a crowd at a Little Saigon screening earlier this year and is scheduled to air on PBS in late April to coincide with the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

Botkin shares one memory of the hours he spent with Le, who lives in San Jose.

"I would see him with his grandchildren, and they're always playing with action figures like Ironman," he said. "I asked them: 'Do you realize your grandfather is a real superhero?' "

"That's what these men are," he added. "The veterans - American and Vietnamese - deserve true honor."

Twitter: @newsterrier

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