Sammy Seay knows what it means to survive the hand that is dealt to you.
For this Army veteran, his lucky draw in Vietnam was always the Ace of Spades.
He owed his life to the armor-plated, 5-ton modified cargo truck named after the death card in poker.
Painted black and bristling with firepower, Ace of Spades was intimidation on wheels for enemy insurgents determined to disrupt supply convoys bound for fire bases.
The latest version of Ace of Spades will be among the reproduction gun trucks to rumble their way onto the Carlisle Fairgrounds Saturday morning. The vehicles will be on display from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. as part of the Carlisle Events All-Truck Nationals.
The display is a partnership between Carlisle Events and the Army Heritage and Education Center. Truck fans and military equipment enthusiasts are invited to get up close and personal with the gun trucks and to chat with the veterans who manned them.
From 1972 to 1973, Seay served as a sergeant with the 523rd Transportation Company just outside Hue City in central Vietnam. As rear gunner on the Ace of Spades, he manned twin 50-caliber machine guns.
Today, Seay is the owner of the reproduction Ace of Spades, which he modified from a surplus Army truck. He's in the Carlisle area this week as part of "The Gathering," an annual reunion of Vietnam-era veterans of the Army transportation service.
These veterans own, operate and maintain the reproduction gun trucks in a campaign to educate the public on their contribution to the war. "We are trying to pass on a little part of history," said Seay, 59, of Rogersville, Tenn.
Seay and other veterans will be available to answer questions and demonstrate how the trucks operated. Living history persons from AHEC will portray Vietnam-era soldiers in support of the exhibition, while education center staff will present information about the AHEC collections.
The veterans and their gun trucks started rolling into the Quality Inn parking lot on the Carlisle Pike Tuesday afternoon. Their vehicles sport such colorful names as "Satan's Little Angel," "Meat Wagon" and "Black Widow."
The missions for the gun trucks in Vietnam were the same, day or night, around the clock. Ace of Spades and her sister gun trucks were armed escorts to convoys traveling the rugged jungle roads and river valleys of the highlands.
The hope was that just having a gun truck in line would draw hostile fire away from the more vulnerable cargo trucks, Seay said. He added there was only one standing order for gun truck crews and that was to "make it happen," no matter how many vehicles were available for convoy protection.
As a result, gun truck crews became experts at improvising solutions to combat problems completely on the fly, using trucks packed with heavy weapons, small arms, grenades and boxes of ammunition.
"We did the best we could with what we had," said Seay, adding that even if the vehicle was destroyed, the name would carry on to the next truck modified by the surviving crew members.
Barbara Bower is the retired director of the Army Transportation Museum at Fort Eustis, Va., and one of the planners of "The Gathering." She explained how the veterans have been holding reunions every year since 2003 at different locations across the country.
This year, organizers decided to hold "The Gathering" in central Pennsylvania so the families of veterans could tour such historic sites as Gettysburg, Bower said. It just so happened the reunion was scheduled for the same weekend as the All-Truck Nationals.
Jack Giblin, director of visitor and education services at AHEC, heard of "The Gathering" and saw it as an opportunity for the education center to work closely with Carlisle Events staff.
"We are hoping to expose the public to a component of the Vietnam War few people are aware of," Giblin said.
By setting up an event on the fairgrounds, AHEC is hoping to draw a new audience to its campus in Middlesex Township, Giblin said.
All-Trucks event manager Ed Scholly said the gun trucks fit in well with the theme of the show and the other vehicles featured in the show. He explained how the gun trucks and the veterans will be special guests on the main stage on Saturday at about 2 p.m.
The veterans will talk about the gun trucks and will take questions from the audience.
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