Recreating a Vietnam Dodge M37 "Gun Truck"

"Daughter of Darkness" is a tribute to those who served
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Daughter of Darkness was a Vietnam gun truck built on an M37 Dodge 3/4-ton tactical truck. As with all gun trucks that saw service in Vietnam, it was built in-country in a transportation unit motor pool using parts, armor, and weapons that had been procured through channels, or appropriated otherwise. Per gun truck tradition, it received its unique name from its crew.

Daughter of Darkness was a Vietnam gun truck built on an M37 Dodge 3/4-ton tactical truck. As with all gun trucks that saw service in Vietnam, it was built in-country in a transportation unit motor pool using parts, armor, and weapons that had been procured through channels, or appropriated otherwise. Per gun truck tradition, it received its unique name from its crew. 

The re-creation of the Daughter of Darkness began when I ran across an announcement for the 10th Annual Gathering of the gun trucks scheduled for Carlisle, Pa., in 2010. Apparently, I had somehow missed nearly a decade of prior “Gatherings” of Vietnam veterans who had served on these improvised rolling weapons platforms. Having restored a 1965 Pontiac GTO, I was familiar with Carlisle Fairgrounds. Immediately, I knew I was going to attend!

8th RRFS gun trucks Executioner, Uncle Meat, and Babysitters. Scott was the driver of Babysitters. After they acquired the trucks, they repainted the noses of the hoods in red, white, and blue, replacing the yellow noses of the 8th Transportation Group.

8th RRFS gun trucks Executioner, Uncle Meat, and Babysitters. Scott was the driver of Babysitters. After they acquired the trucks, they repainted the noses of the hoods in red, white, and blue, replacing the yellow noses of the 8th Transportation Group. 

Taking a step back, my interest in Vietnam gun trucks was cultivated during my Army tour in Vietnam in 1971-72. My duty station in Phu Bai was immediately adjacent to QL-1. Being a bit of a motor head, I noticed the heavily armed and armored deuce- and-a-half and 5-ton trucks traveling by our base.

Fast forward to halfway through my tour. All but a few American combat troops had been sent home, but the intelligence gathering unit in which I served continued their mission in Phu Bai. Located in a compound inside the Phu Bai Combat Base, we had been pretty secure up to that point, enduring just harassment rocket and mortar attacks. Then, all the American combat troops left. We could have easily become a land-locked USS Pueblo with all the top secret “stuff” and specialists we had.

In what I think was an effort to make us feel good, command secured three 5-ton gun trucks that had escorted convoys up until recently. The three were Executioner, Uncle Meat, and Babysitters — the truck that I drove for base defense.

At the 2010 Gathering in Carlisle of veterans of gun truck units, there was an absolutely beautiful reproduction of Uncle Meat. Logan Werth had built the truck in Michigan. Logan had been a gunner on the original Meat in 1969-70. He had done a body-off restoration and transformation of a 1955 Mack before outfitting it with all of the appropriate ancillary equipment, right down to spare barrels for the .50 cals.

We talked at length. He had no idea of what had happened to Uncle Meat after he DEROSed. He was pleased to hear she had served until the bitter end. I showed him a picture of our three trucks, resplendent with red, white, and blue stripes on the noses of their hoods (replacing the yellow stripes of 8th Transportation Group). Even though Logan suffers from PTSD, he opened up to me a bit, and we became friends that weekend.

He was extremely protective of his truck. He accompanied every little tyke, excited mom and old vet up into the gun box as he shared his creation and story. On Sunday, he said to me, “I’ve never done this before, but I’m tired and there are a lot of folks here. Would you mind showing them the truck?” His confidence in my knowledge and my appreciation of the importance of his baby took me by surprise. I happily climbed aboard.

I was bitten. Watching the smiles on the kids faces and the knowing gazes of the veterans was such a reward. I talked so much that day I nearly lost my voice.

GETTING INTO THE HOBBY

For a year, I thought about getting into the historic military vehicle (HMV) hobby. I checked out a bunch of deuce-and-a- half trucks as well as 3/4-tons. There was a lot of junk out there.

Once Scott decided to recreate a gun truck, the search was on for a suitable candidate to transform. Finally, he found an M37 in Connecticut.

Once Scott decided to recreate a gun truck, the search was on for a suitable candidate to transform. Finally, he found an M37 in Connecticut. 

In the fall of 2011, I searching for trucks on the computer. After going several pages deep on the internet, I came across an old ad for an M37. I called the number in Connecticut and spoke to an older gent who said he still had the truck. I don’t think his ad ever made it to any of the appropriate military websites.

He mailed me some pictures. It looked pretty good. We were about to leave for Florida for the winter, but my wife and I drove up for one day. He took us to a shed where the squirrels had been storing nuts in the cab of the Dodge.

With just a flashlight, I did what due diligence I could. I was pretty confident I’d found a truck that wouldn’t need a drawn-out restoration before starting the conversion to a gun truck. I sent the man a check, and he agreed to keep it in the shed until spring.

In talking with the gentleman, I found that the truck had been purchased through government surplus at Fort Devens, MA in about 1990. A light bulb went off in my brain! I had been stationed at Fort Devens for nearly a year. That is I where I obtained my military driver’s license. There was just a small combined motor pool on base and chances are good that I may have driven that very truck back in 1970!

While in Florida, I spent countless hours reading, researching, Googling, and seeking out military vehicles to check out. I found all of the manuals for the M37, made a list of vendors for truck parts, gun mounts, replica arms, surplus equipment, etc. I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to construct the armor and mount things.

Upon our return to Pennsylvania in the spring, my wife and I took a trailer to Connecticut. I got the M37 fired up and loaded. Back in Pennsylvania, I drove the truck off the trailer and into my garage without incident.

RECREATING THE DAUGHTER OF DARKNESS

I had found about 20 pictures of the Daughter of Darkness from various sources. I perused all of the specifications I could find and took measurements of the truck. I then scaled the pictures and was able to pretty closely replicate all of the armor add-ons in AutoCAD. The specifications, manuals and online resources gave me plenty to work on when not in the garage.

Another valuable resource was Ralph Fuller, affectionately known to his troops as, “LT.” Ralph had been a convoy commander for the 8th Transportation Group who used the Daughter of Darkness for his command vehicle. He was a well-respected infantry officer. He shared some details and thoughts with me as I worked. Sadly, he passed away before I completed the project, the victim of a long struggle with the ravages of Agent Orange.

I began working in the garage during one of the hottest springs and early summers we’ve had. I removed everything from the truck that wasn’t riveted on. I stripped, cleaned and painted, and put parts in labeled bins with photos to remember for reassembly. I’d work hours, and when I got tired, I’d take a break and get busy on the computer before returning to the garage after it cooled down at night. No doubt, my neighbors wondered if my wonderful wife had banished me to the garage.

After 33 years in the machine shop business in the small town of Clearfield, Pa., I had worked with so many talented people in their fields, I decided to direct the orchestra and let the pros do the work. I worked with several of them in, on, and under the truck. I also became long distance friends with the folks at Vintage Power Wagons.

I took the truck to Fred Kanski’s auto repair shop and joined a young mechanic who had good hands but had never worked on such a thing. I directed him in locating all of the filters, fluids, and mechanicals that needed attention. Greg at Bud’s Electric Service installed some turn signals and corrected some wiring issues.

Next, I ordered everything I figured would be needed for a tune up. I took the parts and truck to the shop of Roger Adam, who built high-end racing engines in his spare time. The waterproof electrical system presented some access challenges. We installed an electric fuel pump and replaced the carburetor. Now, the truck ran like a top.

Having read about (and experienced) the notorious problem of the M37 boiling gas and vapor locking, I replaced, rerouted, and insulated the fuel line. I also removed the fording intake cover on the engine side skirt next to the carb, milled slots in it, and installed a high output computer cooling fan. Yes, they’re 24-volt DC!

I sent my AutoCAD files to my friends at TD Fabrication and Welding. They produced the armor using a CNC plasma cutter. The gun box was made from 1/4” steel plate and the side windows and windshield were made from 1/8”. I installed 1/2” thick “bullet proof” glass in the windshield armor and the side ports remained open. I also decided not to replace the corroded tail gate. The dents and dings added to the character of the vehicle. Instead, we just rebuilt the hinge area.

I took the steel plates to Johnson Machine Company to be welded into the finished product. Square tubing and angle were used to strengthen the assembly. The finished gun box was then lifted above the bed of the truck and slowly lowered into place. Perfect! It had 1/2” clearance all around. I installed West Coast style mirrors like the ones depicted in the early pictures of the truck.

Daughter of Darkness is a “hands-on.” Scott uses it for military events and displays as well as car shows and parades. Children are encouraged to climb aboard and gear up with flak vests and helmets.

Daughter of Darkness is a “hands-on.” Scott uses it for military events and displays as well as car shows and parades. Children are encouraged to climb aboard and gear up with flak vests and helmets.

It was time for the paint. I’d heard several versions of the paint story. Most boiled down to dumping OD green and black paint together. I tried some different things before settling on NAPA under hood black paint. It’s the color you might find in the engine compartment of a classic car.

Jim and Dan from Moyer’s Auto Body Shop were up to doing the paint. I had already painted the interior and most small parts. They do professional work and said the hardest part would be sanding down the body to make it smooth. I said, “Noooo!” Anyone who’s ever been around seasoned military vehicles knows that just wouldn’t be right. I wanted the Daughter to re-enter the world with warts and all. The resulting paint job was amazing.

Scott finished the replica in 2012. Action Graphics prepared decals for all of the lettering and markings on the truck.

Scott finished the replica in 2012. Action Graphics prepared decals for all of the lettering and markings on the truck.

After we came up with appropriate fonts, Action Graphics prepared decals for all of the lettering on the truck as well as the stars. Zalno Jewelers engraved the replacement data plates to match the originals. Mike’s Auto Repair became my go-to place for brake and steering maintenance. And Andy from AJ Ross Towing shuttled the gun box between locations and bailed me out on several occasions when I found myself alongside the road with a 4-ton behemoth that decided to quit running.

This had been a labor of love. I hadn’t physically worked that hard on anything in 25 years. The rewards were abundant when seeing, just as in 2010, the kids and veterans enjoying a piece of very important history.

Daughter of Darkness is a tribute to ALL who served.

Daughter of Darkness is a tribute to ALL who served. 

It is my hope that someday the Daughter will be in a museum or in the hands of a veterans organization to continue to pass the history onward.

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