AUGUSTA — One of the most dangerous duties a GI can undertake in a war zone is escorting a convoy of slow-moving cargo trucks through enemy territory.
During the Vietnam War, American troops really didn't have a vehicle designed specifically for that job, so they invented one themselves. They transformed standard-issue 2 1/2 ton trucks (deuce and a halfs) into heavily armored fighting platforms.
"They pulled cargo trucks out of service and built them with whatever they had. Mini-guns out of shot-down helicopters, grenade launchers, .50 caliber machine guns, M-60's," said David Brubaker, one of the builders of "Business As Usual," a "gun truck" on display at the Kansas Museum of Military History in Augusta. "They were kind of the cowboys of trucks," he said.
"When an ambush happened, the gun trucks ran to the ambush," Brubaker said.
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He, Bob Wilson and Brad Wise, all volunteers and members of the museum's board of directors, decided to recreate a typical gun truck that might have done escort duty in Vietnam between 1968-'73.
Wilson had bought the basic M35A2C cargo truck himself from Fort Riley nearly 20 years ago, but sold it to a friend several years later. As luck would have it, the truck was donated to the museum just as the trio came up with the idea of building a gun truck.
"We built this using only the tools that would have been available in the field hand tools and a stick welder," Brubaker said. They researched the history of gun trucks thoroughly before they began the conversion.
"We didn't want it 'Hollywood right,' we wanted it right," he said.
The truck they built represents the type used by the 512th Transport Company, 8th Transportation Group and is distinguished by a yellow band across its nose. All commanders wanted to be able to identify their vehicles from a support helicopter and the yellow nose marking "became a badge of honor," Brubaker said.
Finding the correct gun mounts was one of the biggest challenges for the museum crew, who welded them to heavy pipes before mounting the weapons and ammo boxes. The rear floor of the truck is literally covered with 118 ammo cans, which also served as additional armored protection for the gun crew.
A pair of .50 caliber machine guns and an M-60 machine gun, provide the main armament, but there are M-16s, a .45 caliber "grease gun" and an M-79 grenade launcher available, too.
"We can prove historically everything on this vehicle," Brubaker said, noting it is one of only two gun trucks known to exist west of the Mississippi. The Augusta museum also has a correct scout Jeep and a Huey helicopter of the type used to fly over convoys. The gun truck is used as part of the museum's outreach programs, participating in Veterans Day parades and other military events, Brubaker said.
"We spend a lot of time telling people what they (the gun trucks) are all about," said Brubaker, who noted that many of the tactics and in-field modifications developed in Vietnam came into play in the Gulf Wars.
The museum, supported almost entirely by donations, is dedicated to preserving military history, he said.
"Vietnam veterans have become the World War II vets of our generation, and we don't want people to forget what they did," Brubaker said.
For more information on the gun truck project, go to: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kansas-Museum-of-Military-History-Vietnam-Gun-Truck-Build-Project/270168218271