Ambush at Ap Nhi – The Heroism of Sergeant William W. Seay, U.S. Army Vietnam War – Medal of Honor Part 2
Author’s special note:
Much of what is written below remained unknown for 40 years. Only through the dedication and determination of several of Sergeant William Seay’s fellow soldiers and friends was his story finally told. They were witness to the extraordinary actions by this 19-year old hero. Not until many years later would they know that his courage and bravery had been recognized by his having received the Medal of Honor.
The brave soldiers in the Tay Ninh convoy were weary and bone-tired. Their job was to deliver war-fighting materials to troops in the field in Vietnam. Sometimes the roads were two-lane, muddy ruts and at other times, dusty, bumpy, barely passable excuses for roads. Months of delivering their precious cargo over roads such as those had left them numb with fatigue. But they had little time to worry about being tired when the enemy might be lurking in ambush, somewhere down the next road.
Sergeant Billy Seay was driving a truck in the Tay Ninh supply convoy. His truck was loaded with artillery charges. There were 80 other trucks of the 48th Transportation Company in the convoy. Refrigeration trucks were in the lead, followed by supply trucks, then fuel and ammunition trucks.
The ambush was a masterpiece of Viet Cong deception and treachery. They positioned four companies, hidden along the road entering the village. The fifth company took-up fighting positions within the village of Ap Nhi.
It was misty and raining when the convoy reached the village. As they neared the village, they passed a column of Viet Cong dressed in the uniforms of the South Vietnamese Army [ARVN]. The Viet Cong were experts in springing an ambush, so they waited until the first truck in the convoy exited the village before attacking. The lead fuel truck was the target of the first RPG [rocket propelled grenade]. Almost simultaneously, an ammunition trailer at the rear of the convoy was hit and started burning. With the fuel truck burning in the front and the ammunition trailer burning in the rear, the remaining trucks were trapped in the “kill zone.”
Making matters worse, the VC had specifically targeted the eight MP [Military Police] gun-jeeps in the convoy. Six of the gun-jeeps, six vehicle-mounted radios and five M-60 machine guns were destroyed in the initial attack. One MP managed to get in a call for help to the base at Tay Ninh but that help was hours away.
Fortunately, the 31 trucks in front of the burning tanker were able to escape.
For the next nine hours, the American soldiers were in a life and death struggle with the Viet Cong who were trying to overrun the entire convoy
As soon as the convoy was stopped, the Viet Cong charged from their concealed locations along the road. The attack was massive with machine guns, automatic weapons, grenades and RPGs The convoy was in danger of being completely overrun. The drivers and other personnel in the convoy immediately tried to take cover and establish defensive firing positions. One of those brave drivers was Sergeant William Seay.
When the attack began, Seay jumped from the cab of his truck and took cover behind its dual wheels.
The initial assault by the Viet Cong was blunted but the battle had just begun. As the drivers took cover, the enemy retreated behind a berm across the road. Two Viet Cong charged Seay’s truck but were quickly dispatched by him with a burst from his M-16. Other attackers were firing from the berm, the rubber plantation and still others had climbed trees. Seay spotted a sniper about 75 meters away and killed him with another burst from his M-16.
Suddenly, a grenade was thrown under the ammunition trailer just behind Seay’s truck. Specialist David M. Sellman was behind the duals of the trailer and watched as Seay left his position, charged across the open ground to the trailer. Seay picked up the grenade and hurled it across the road toward the enemy’s position. The grenade went off killing four Viet Cong who had left their cover trying to escape. Quickly, another grenade landed near Seay but Sellman was able to kick it away. Immediately after that explosion, another grenade landed under the trailer. Seay quickly picked it up and threw it back at the enemy. As Seay turned back to his cover, he saw two more Viet Cong trying to crawl through a nearby fence. He and Sellman shot both of them. Right after that, Seay was hit by a bullet in the right hand that shattered a bone.
Asking Sellman to cover him, Seay ran back to the rear seeking medical help. He came across six truckers hiding in a ditch and they helped bandage his wound. Seay remained in the ditch, unable to use his right hand to fire his weapon. The others in the ditch left for better protected firing positions. Another soldier, Specialist Fourth Class William Hinote, brought water to Seay and stayed with him in the ditch. While Hinote was looking away for a moment, he heard a burst from Seay’s rifle. He turned just in time to see three Viet Cong fall as they were trying to cross the road. Even though he was going into shock from loss of blood, Seay had risen to a crouch and fired his weapon with his left hand. Just a few seconds later, Hinote saw Seay topple over from a sniper’s bullet to the head.
Sergeant William Seay was killed instantly. This hero had saved countless lives with his courage and ingenuity during the heated battle that still raged. Many of his fellow truckers were witness to Seay’s fearless actions and were inspired to fight with renewed determination.
The battle to save the convoy continued for nearly nine hours. During that time, artillery had been brought in for support, along with helicopter gunships with infantry. The outcome of the battle was not determined until around 9 that night when an armored cavalry troop arrived and forced the enemy to withdraw.
Seven of the convoy drivers had been killed and another 10 were wounded. Worse yet were the casualties of the relief force. The rescuers lost a further 23 men killed and 35 were wounded.
Two men were reported to have been captured and one man, originally reported as missing, woke up in a body bag at a temporary morgue.
The ambush of the Tay Ninh convoy was deadly but could have been much worse had it not been for the heroism of Sergeant Billy Seay.
[To be continued].
[Sources: Wikipedia; National Medal of Honor Museum; “Ambush at Ap Nhi – Stories of Valor and Heroism.” Katzenmeier’s Weblog, Nov. 2, 2008; “Bone-Tired Buddies” by Randy E. Richmond; “Ambush at Ap Nhi” by Richard E. Kilblane, U.S. Army Transportation Branch Historian, Sep. 15, 2008; “Ambush at Ap Nhi,” by Ronney Z. Miller, Historian for the Military Police Regimental Association; family interviews with Sarah Seay Lee and Lynda Darwish, sister and niece of Sergeant William W. Seay].