written by Mary Klepper

Sammy Seay's completed Ace of Spades Vietnam Gun Truck

In Rogersville, Tennessee, is the Persia General Store, the kind of place where “if they don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

It’s also the domain of Vicki Seay, who founded the store and has run it for almost 50 years.

Sign reads: Persia General Store, Est. Nov. 1976 by Vicki Seay

I walked in looking for Diet Peach Snapple (I didn’t need it) and glanced at some photos on the wall.

I asked the woman behind the counter about the military truck in the pictures.

“Miss Vicki’s late husband built that truck. It’s a replica of the one he used in Vietnam,” she said.

As left the store, I noticed the car in front had a decal on the rear window with her husband’s name and “The Ace of Spades Gun Truck” silhouetted underneath.

Four months later, I called Vicki and asked if I could visit her and the truck. I had a lot of questions about her husband Sammy’s service, and when I arrived back in Persia, Tennessee, she gave me a yellow folder which included 11 pages of Sammy’s own hand-written notes.

Sammy was 19 when he was drafted in 1970 and served in the Army’s 26th General Support Group, 39th Transportation Battalion and 523rd Transportation Company in Vietnam.

Portrait of Sammy Seay in his Army uniform

Sammy Seay in the Army

He returned home after 12 months, and for the next 30 years never spoke a word about what he’d done.

The “Ace of Spades” truck was born from grief in 2001, when Vicki and Sammy’s son died at age 25. Sammy couldn’t sleep and spent long nights playing “Pop It” on his computer—popping balloons on screen.

One night he asked Vicki, “don’t this stupid machine do anything else?”

She showed him the internet.

Three months later, he towed home an old 5-ton truck and got to work.

Front end of the 5-ton Vietnam Gun Truck Ace of Spades

“Give me a year, and we’ll talk about it,” he told Vicki whenever she questioned what he was doing.

Night after night, he Sammy searched the internet and talked on the phone with old Army buddies. Every other non-working moment was spent in the garage on the truck.

The work and sense of purpose energized and transformed Sammy.

Vicki testifies that Sammy did almost all the work on the truck himself. Every once in a while Vicki’s brother Paul helped hold a metal plate, and another young man, Mike Hoard (who happens to be my cousin) would assist with heavy parts.

Mike testifies to Sammy’s devotion to the project, fabricating all the metal himself, just like they did in Vietnam. Sammy called it “hillbilly armor.” He was adamant that he’d replicate every detail as precisely as possible.

One year later, Sammy’s shop swarmed with men Vicki had never seen before. They were all fellow veterans of the 523rd Transportation Company who had served in Sammy’s crew in Vietnam. Each crew climbed into their positions aboard “The Ace of Spades” and rode it 700 miles west to Branson, Missouri, for a unit reunion.

All across Interstate 40 they rode, guns mounted with the gunners in place, only the firing pins removed.

When he returned from Branson, Sammy, for the first time ever, started talking about Vietnam.

*          *          *

So what were Vietnam Gun Trucks?

They were, quite simply, supply trucks that rumbled hither and yon in Vietnam delivering weapons, fuel, equipment, and other cargo.

But, as Sammy said, in Vietnam, driving a truck was not just driving a truck.

Convoys of supply trucks from the ports to inland bases were huge targets. It was not uncommon to see 200 trucks move together down one road at one time.

On September 2, 1967, for example, the Viet Cong disabled the lead truck of a 90-truck convoy from the 8th Transportation Group and systematically riddled the stalled vehicles with AK-47s and RPGs fired from 50 positions along the route. In less than 10 minutes, 31 vehicles were disabled or destroyed, seven American truck drivers were killed and 17 wounded.

American ingenuity stepped in to solve the problem. The young men of the 523rd began protecting their cargo trucks with sandbags and wood. Cargo trucks became Gun Trucks when a gun box was added to the top.

"Ace of Spades" Gun Box as seen in Vietnam Gun Trucks

“Ace of Spades” Gun Box

“They were cargo trucks converted to gun trucks by whatever means you had to work with . . . they were just put together by a bunch of guys out in the field for convoy protection,” said Sammy.

The M-60 Machine Gun (The Pig) was the only machine gun authorized by the Army to be used on Gun Trucks. This gun could swing low, so low, they could almost take out their own tires.

The guys knew they needed more, like the M2 Browning Machine Gun (the .50 or Ma Deuce) from WWII and Korea. It was powerful enough to bring down a stout tree.

Or the M134 Machine Gun (Mini-Gun), an electric-powered rotating barrel Gatling-style machine gun built for helicopters and planes. Just add a trigger bar (sink bar) to fire its multiple barrels with a single trigger. It had a potential per minute firing range 10 times the M-60 and the M2.

The Army wouldn’t give them the guns they wanted, so they begged, borrowed, and, yes, stole what they needed. Not one Gun Truck was ever authorized by the US Army. But everyone at the top knew about them.

The Gun Trucks had multi-fuel engines. They could run on motor oil, JP4/JP8 (kerosene), diesel, and commercial grade gas. Sammy’s replica Ace of Spades does the same.

Interior of Ace of Spades Vietnam Gun Truck

“Ace of Spades” Behind the Wheel

The men crafted each by hand, giving them non-standard flashes of style. They were largely painted black instead of Army green and christened with nomes de guerre like “Malfunction,” “Brutus,” “Pandemonium,” “The Untouchable,” “Satan’s Li’l Angel,” “Uncle Meat,” “Proud American,” “The Piece Maker,” and “Ace of Spades.”

Sammy Seay in Vietnam next to one of their Gun Trucks Sammy Seay in Vietnam in the back of a Gun Truck Original Ace of Spades, one of many Vietnam Gun Trucks during the Vietnam War

In 1971, Specialist 4th Class Larry Dahl of the 359th Transportation Company, 27th Transportation Battalion was a machine gunner on “Brutus “near An Khe. “Brutus” had been sent with two other trucks to help defend a convoy under heavy fire.

The attack subsided, and as they were preparing to return to their regular duty, an enemy hand grenade was tossed in the back of the gun box where 21-year-old Dahl was standing.

Dahl threw himself on top of the grenade and saved his crew. For that, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Portraint of Medal of Honor recipient Larry G. Dahl

Medal of Honor recipient Larry G. Dahl

Destroyed Gun Trucks would be salvaged for parts. “Proud American” operated for only 21 days before being ambushed. It’s gun box became the “Ace of Spades.”

Over the course of the Vietnam War, some 300-400 cargo trucks were re-purposed as Gun Trucks. The Army considered them a temporary measure until the Cadillac Gage Commando V-100 armored cars arrived. But these turned out to be death traps with power train issues. So, the Gun Trucks continued to serve until virtually the end of the war.

After Vietnam, most Gun Trucks were either scrapped or returned to their old job – carrying cargo. “Eve of Destruction” was brought stateside to represent the Gun Trucks at the Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Virginia.

In 2017, the Smithsonian Channel’s “The Weapon Hunter” show featured Sammy and his truck.

“I don’t need the publicity,” Sammy said. “I want the history out there. That’s what it’s about, and that’s why I built the trucks – for the history . . .  and also in memory of those who served.”

Although he never said it, Sammy also built the truck for healing. It allowed him to start talking about Vietnam and come to terms with the loss of his son. A piece of him that had been missing for thirty years came back.

Sammy passed away in 2018. Family members now keep the “Ace of Spades” rolling. Its legacy lives on, reminding us what these extraordinary men did in their commitment to protect their fellow service members.

Sammy Seay and "Ace of Spades" Veterans in front of a Sammy's Vietnam Gun Truck

Sammy Seay and “Ace of Spades” Veterans