ABOUT HIS INQUIRING MIND: “In talking to clients, if you ask good questions, they’ll tell you everything.”

Probing for information, perceptive financial advisor Richard Botkin knows the right questions to ask clients and how to ask them. But little did the former Marine imagine that one day he’d put that talent to work as an investigative author. His first book, six years in the writing, is a 652-page account that sheds new light on the Vietnam War.

Ride the Thunder: A Vietnam War Story of Honor and Triumph, released last summer by WND Books, focuses on a few heroes — in particular, two U.S. Marine officers who were advisors to the South Vietnamese and one South Vietnamese Marine major — who were chiefly responsible for countering North Vietnam’s Easter Offensive of 1972, thus foiling a Communist invasion of South Vietnam.

Writing is a big departure from Botkin’s work as a senior vice president-FA with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. But penning this particular book isn’t too surprising: the ex-infantry officer, 53, has patterned a life of multifaceted service.

“I did it to bless the Marines and their families who I wrote about. The Marine Corps blessed me in so many intangible ways. It was my way of giving back,” says Botkin from his office in Roseville, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento.

The FA manages about $100 million in assets for mostly small business owners with investable assets of between $250,000 to $3 million.

Personal wealth isn’t what drives this father of two with wife Sharon. He regularly works community mentoring programs and volunteers at his church.

“It’s important to make money and do well, but there are other things in addition that are more important: serving to the higher cause and helping other people,” he says.

MSSB Roseville branch manager Craig Weis notes that the latter is what Botkin is all about. “Richard values success not by the dollar but by how he helps other people and gives back to society. That’s the way he lives his life. He runs a very clean business and is always looking to do the right thing.”

From 1980 to 1995 Botkin was first on active duty — in Okinawa, the Philippines and Korea — and then in the reserves. He didn’t serve in Vietnam but once the war ended, had been “struck by how much misinformation there was and that the South Vietnam story hadn’t been adequately reported,” he says. “My book tells the Vietnam side of things.”

Botkin wrote Ride the Thunder in spare time but figures that the 6,000 hours he devoted to the project cost him business opportunities.

He doesn’t regret it. “It wasn’t an effort to make money.”

It was partly an effort to set the record straight. “The main Vietnam Marine in my book fought from 1962 through 1975 and was wounded nine times. When the War was lost, the Communists put him in a ‘reeducation’ camp for 11 years. The first four, his wife didn’t know if he was dead or alive.”

A portion of the book’s proceeds go to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, which also supports sailors and soldiers serving with Marines.

Botkin never before had an urge to write a book but began collecting stories after attending a reunion of U.S. and South Vietnamese Marine officers. Four research trips to Vietnam and roughly 1,000 manuscript pages later, he delivered Ride the Thunder.

Meanwhile, by the fall of 2008, he was helping his clientele navigate the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

“I was grateful to be a Marine because I think it steeled me a bit more,” he says.

Of all the penetrating questions Botkin asks clients nowadays, one has special relevance: Do you believe the world is ending?

“I tell them, ‘If you do, then let’s get out of the markets. But if you don’t, we have some opportunities before us.’ I’m not trying to hit home runs,” he says. “I’m trying to be a little better at asset preservation, then ensure that we capture the upside and recognize opportunities.”

Busy as he was with the job and his book, Botkin found time over the past nine years to conduct nine dental missions to Cambodia, where he personally extracted badly decayed teeth of poverty-stricken villagers.

The team included dental professionals, who trained him. But, says this optometrist’s son, “You could tell what needed to be pulled. In some cases, it was just a matter of sticking in your gloved hand and pulling out the tooth.”

A client friend invited Botkin on the first mission. “I liked the service aspect. It reminded me of being a Marine,” he says. “It was something to be excited about outside the finance business — and to give back.”

Passion for both the Marines and Wall Street manifested early.

At six, in his native Honolulu, Botkin was so stirred by the televised World War II movie Wake Island (1942) — about Americans’ fight to hold a Pacific island — that he decided right then to become a Marine. Still in his teens, he began investing in stocks.

In high school, he won a Navy ROTC scholarship to the University of Michigan. (“In the 1970s, if you could fog a mirror, you could get one of these scholarships; nobody wanted to go in the military.”)

After graduating with a bachelor’s in business in 1978, Botkin entered the Marines, where he achieved the rank of first lieutenant. By the time he left the reserves, he’d made major.

Before joining E.F. Hutton in Sacramento, as a trainee in 1986, three years after returning from active duty, he worked in construction materials sales for two years. But, he recalls, his “natural interest in the markets” again surfaced.

In 2000, he moved from Smith Barney (which by then had acquired E.F. Hutton) to Wachovia. Eight years later, he came aboard Morgan Stanley.

Though Botkin is proud of his financial services success, what gives him even more gratification is helping the greater good. He says:

“I feel sorry for so many people who are only wrapped up in themselves. They don’t understand that there’s so much more joy in serving and being part of a higher calling than just trying to get ahead.”