It centers upon a young and somewhat unscrupulous U.S. Army medic named Brian Anderson (Dennis Christopher), who makes extra money on the side dealing drugs. His life is forever changed when he meets an Army doctor named Katherine Cross (Susan Saint James), who persuades him to help her save a group of war orphans. First, she appeals to his sense of guilt; then she blackmails him into assisting. The children are cared for by a few Vietnamese nuns. The doctor and the medic bring them badly needed food and supplies. To do this, they must face enemy bombs and the resistance of the US government.
Don't Cry, It's Only Thunder contains examples of:
- Bittersweet Ending: In the end, Anderson adopts the broken girl, but when finalizing her adoption, she's caught in a Viet Cong trap, her last words are to tell Anderson "I love you."
- Broken Bird: One of the orphans is very broken.
- The Promise: Anderson's promise to his friend is the impetus for the story.
- Rape as Backstory: The reason for the broken cutie.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Anderson starts out very cynical, and self serving, but starts to care for the orphans.