Ambush at Ap Nhi

By Richard E. Killblane - Transportation Branch HistorianSeptember 15, 2008

Sgt. William Seay
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

August 25, 1968, was a typical monsoon season day. The clouds hung low, making flying helicopters dangerous, while intermittent hard rain drenched the area.

A large resupply convoy of 81 trucks from the 48th Transportation Group departed Long Binh in three serials with six refrigeration trucks in the front, followed by cargo trucks, then fuel and ammunition trucks in the rear.

The unimproved roads that spread out from Long Binh and Saigon like the spokes of a wheel were flat and filled with pot holes.

The convoy resupplied the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, located just seven miles from the Cambodian border. It normally took a few hours to complete the trip because of the mandated convoy speed limit of 20 miles per hour.

The 1st and 3rd Brigades of the 25th Infantry Division typically provided road security along the Main Supply Route, but the divisionAca,!a,,cs new commander, Maj. Gen. Ellis W. Williamson, had ordered the 3rd Brigade to Saigon.

Convoy security was a high priority, but Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, respected the local commanderAca,!a,,cs decision. The reduction in force resulted from the anticipated third phase of the Tet Offensive.

Williamson moved the 2nd Battalion, 34th Armor back to Cu Chi, while still ordering the 1st Brigade to secure the main supply route. Col. Duquesne Aca,!A"DukeAca,!A? Wolf, 1st BrigadeAca,!a,,cs commander, only had three undermanned rifle companies, three undermanned mechanized infantry companies, two 105mm artillery batteries, and two medium batteries with no armored cavalry units attached. Wolf challenged WilliamsonAca,!a,,cs decision, to no avail. Only eight military police gun jeeps provided security for the 81 vehicles in the convoy.

The village of Ap Nhi and the Ben Cui Rubber Plantation, known locally as Little Rubber, flanked Route 22 for about a mile. The Ap Nhi side was mostly farm land, while the Little Rubber side had rubber trees growing to within 15 feet of the road. A drainage ditch and an earthen berm paralleled the road inside the trees.

At 11:45 a.m., the convoy entered the quiet village of Ap Nhi. The convoy passed what looked like a column of Army of the Republic of Vietnam soldiers marching along the north side of the road adjacent to the Little Rubber.

The lead vehicles of the convoy had started to leave the village and the ammo and fuel vehicles were alongside the column when the supposed-ARVN soldiers opened fire on the convoy. The soldiers turned out to be Viet Cong. Elements of the 88th North Vietnamese Army Regiment had moved into the Little Rubber the previous evening to prepare an ambush.

This signaled the VC and NVA troops positioned in the Little Rubber to initiate an intense barrage of rocket, machinegun, and automatic-weapons fire on the convoy. The enemy first targeted the eight gun jeeps. The enemy then fired at the lead fuel trucks hoping to block part of the convoy.

Two fuel tankers began to burn. In front of them, 30 trucks sped away, following standard operating procedure, leaving 51 trucks stranded in the mile-long kill zone. The enemy then set two ammunition trailers on fire at the rear of the convoy, sealing the trucks in place. The drivers climbed out of their vehicles and took up defensive positions either behind their trucks or in the ditch along the road.

The enemy had thoroughly planned the ambush. It occurred well beyond the range of the 1st BrigadeAca,!a,,cs artillery. Likewise, the low ceiling initially prevented the use of air support. With the convoy trapped, the enemy left their cover and made a rush on the column of trucks.

When the convoy stopped, Spc. William W. Seay, a 19-year-old driver from the 62nd Transportation Company, immediately jumped out of his truck and took a defensive position behind the left rear dual wheels of his truck. SeayAca,!a,,cs trailer carried high-explosive artillery powder charges. Spc. David M. Sellman, also of the 62nd, in the truck behind Seay did the same. Another driver joined them, and the three drivers fought about 20 feet apart.

When the North Vietnamese assault reached to within 10 meters of the road, Seay, who was the closest, opened fire, killing two of the enemy. Sellman shot one enemy soldier just 15 meters in front of him, before his M-16 jammed. The drivers, however, had successfully turned back the first enemy assault.

The beleaguered drivers came under automatic fire from the berm and sniper fire from the trees. Seay spotted a sniper in a tree approximately 75 meters to his right front and killed him. Within minutes an enemy grenade rolled under the trailer within a few feet of Sellman.

Without hesitation, Seay ran from his covered position while under intense enemy fire, picked up the grenade and threw it back to the North Vietnamese position. Four enemy soldiers jumped up from their covered position and tried to run when the grenade explosion killed them.

Minutes later another enemy grenade rolled near the group of drivers. Sellman kicked it off the road behind him. After it exploded, another enemy grenade rolled under SeayAca,!a,,cs trailer approximately three meters from his position.

Again Seay left his covered position and threw the armed grenade back at the enemy. At the same time Sellman shot an enemy soldier crawling through the fence. After returning to his position, Seay and Sellman killed two more NVA soldiers trying to crawl through the fence.

Suddenly a bullet shattered the bone in SeayAca,!a,,cs right wrist. Seay called for Sellman to cover him as he ran back to the rear looking for someone to treat his wound.

Seay located Lt. Howard Brockbank, Spc. William Hinote, and four other drivers in a group. Hinote saw that Seay had lost much blood and was in pain.

One man applied a sterile dressing on the wound, but it did not stop the bleeding. Hinote then tied a tourniquet around SeayAca,!a,,cs wrist with his shirt. Seay continued to give encouragement and direction to his fellow soldiers.

Hinote mentioned his concern about SeayAca,!a,,cs shattered wrist. Seay told him to stay alive and not to worry about him. One Soldier fired a full clip of his M-16 in one burst.

Aca,!A"Take it easy!Aca,!A? Seay admonished the Soldier. Aca,!A"DonAca,!a,,ct waste your ammoAca,!"we may run out. What will we do then, stand up and fight them with our fists' I wouldnAca,!a,,ct be any good at that!Aca,!A?

Weak from the loss of blood, Seay moved to the relative cover of a shallow ditch to rest. After another half hour of fighting, Hinote brought him some water. They occasionally fired at enemy positions while waiting for the next attack. Seay noticed three enemy soldiers who had crossed the road and were preparing to fire on his comrades.

Seay raised to a half crouch and fired his rifle with his left hand, killing all three. Suddenly, a sniperAca,!a,,cs bullet struck Seay in the head, killing him instantly. He only had 60 days left in-country.

The battle continued for nearly nine hours, with artillery, aviation and infantry support helping to turn the tide for the outnumbered drivers. Around 9 p.m., an armored cavalry troop finally arrived at the rear of the column and forced the enemy to withdraw.

Seven drivers lost their lives in the ambush, 10 more were wounded and two were taken prisoner. Of the relief force, 23 were killed and 35 wounded. This was the first large scale ambush for the 48th Group.

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action, Seay was posthumously promoted to sergeant and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.