Race Weekend Central

The Story of Truck Series Owner Al Niece: A Marine in Vietnam – Part 1

This article is dedicated to the Marines of Lima Company, Third Battalion, Third Marines from 1967-68.

Any fan that has watched the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in the last five years has heard of his likeness before.

His team, Niece Motorsports, has fielded a wide-and-famous plethora of names such as Carson Hocevar, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson and even Travis Pastrana. With a combined total of five wins, 33 top fives, 74 top 10s and even four Truck Series playoff appearances, it’s no wonder you’ve likely heard of them.

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But the next time you see their haulers at the racetrack, look up.

In the sea of banners that each Truck Series team waves above their trailers stands four bright crimson flags of the United States Marine Corps Globe and Anchor.

They belong to Niece Motorsports owner Al Niece, who, at one time in a faraway country forever etched into American history, was known as Sergeant (Sgt.) Niece of Lima Company, Third Battalion, Third Marines.

And his memories from that time are still vivid.

It was 1966. Niece had only recently finished high school in Albuquerque, New Mexico and gotten involved with a local group of hotrodders in his illegal 1953 Chevrolet Studebaker before moving to Austin, Texas. He hadn’t planned on volunteering for military service, but like so many young American men during the time period, military service would volunteer him by force.

Upon returning home one afternoon, the young Texan found the dreaded white envelope so many American parents feared on his kitchen table.

It was his draft card. His country had called him for service in the escalating conflict in Vietnam.

But Niece felt no remorse. He saw an opportunity.

“I had a feeling [the draft] was coming,” Niece told Frontstretch. “I had lost my student deferment. […] [I felt] indifference.”

Niece didn’t want to join the Army or any other branch. If he had to go, he was going to be with the best.

“If I’m going to go, I want to be with the A-Team,” Niece remembered. “I wanted to be where the action was, instead of being in the Army, Air Force or even the Navy. I did not want to be on the sideline. I wanted to be the point of the spear.

“And we sure as hell were.”

Niece enlisted in the United States Marine Corps.

In June, Niece shipped out to boot camp at Camp Pendleton in California. To the average war movie cinephile, many may picture those iconic scenes of R. Lee Ermey stomping around while screaming obscenities at new recruits in a long barracks hall from the Stanley Kubrick classic Full Metal Jacket.

And, well, they aren’t far off.

“There were some parts of [Full Metal Jacket] that were very realistic,” Niece said. “And some parts that weren’t. I thought, for the most part, the boot camp part was very accurate.”

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But despite the harsh training, Niece excelled in boot camp. In fact, at one point, the then-21-year-old was selected for Officer Candidate School (OCS) in an opportunity to reach a much higher rank than his peers by commissioning to the rank of Second Lieutenant.

He declined.

“I deferred [OCS],” Niece said. “How can you lead if you don’t already know what your troops are going through?”

Niece learned the trade of being a 3500 — the occupational code for Marine Truck Mechanic at the time — but he certainly did not stay that way for long.

After 12 weeks, he graduated boot camp and shipped out to Okinawa, Japan. But after only two weeks and a few bad decisions, his superiors decided to move him elsewhere.

“I was not a good garrison marine,” Niece laughed. “They were going to make me a truck mechanic. That went by the wayside when they put me in Okinawa. So, I finally got to the troops, and that’s where I wanted to be.”

Finally, in early 1967, he was shipped to Phu Bai — a combat base in northern South Vietnam, only 12 km south of Hue City.

There, he spent time as security working for the Motor T unit, protecting patrols and convoys out of Phu Bai from enemy combatants.

But Sgt. Niece, who wanted to ‘be the point of the spear’, would get exactly what he wanted. In March 1967, Niece was sent to Dong Ha Combat Base as a replacement marine near the border of North and South Vietnam. There, he was tasked with patrolling the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

And in 1967, it was one of the most dangerous places on Earth.

Dong Ha was used as a base for patrols to search along Route 9 — a highway cutting across Vietnam into Laos that was used by the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) as a common insertion route to sneak into the southern country they were fighting against.

With it came constant firefights and ambushes sprung by a determined and numerous enemy that plagued both US and South Vietnamese forces.

And Niece, who was now in the middle of it all, ran into them on an almost weekly basis.

“Somebody would get hit, and we’d mount up and move to reinforce,” Niece said. “It was about three or four times a month [we’d have contact]. […] We were deep in [enemy] country.

“We thought we knew where they were, and they definitely knew where we were.”

Niece was part of a unit that was tasked with patrolling the route. At times, he would leave with his squad, composed of just over 10 marines. For them, they would only leave for a day.

“You’d pick up guns, rockets and a [medic],” Niece remembered of his patrols. “We never went out on patrol unless we had 12 [marines]. […] We were running about 50% strength on our squad patrols. We acted like 20 [marines].”

Other times, he would leave with a platoon, a unit comprised of around 50 marines. For them, it would mean days away from the safety of their base. Of course, that also meant sleeping in a dense jungle that often concealed enemy patrols walking past the same trees the marines slept under.

Niece would spend those nights digging a fighting hole he shared with two of his fellow marines. Vietnam often had rain, and rain often filled those holes.

“I’m sitting here with a smile on my face,” Niece said as he remembered the jungle conditions. “But it wasn’t that awesome.”

During his time in the mountains of Vietnam, Niece’s unit experienced engagements with NVA in unforgiving rocky terrain. Often, it was the result of the NVA and Niece’s marine unit patrolling in the same area. They called them “meeting engagements.”

“There was a lot of meeting engagements,” Niece said. “We’d have a lot of hill fights, […] some hellacious ambushes.

“The NVA, they didn’t back off. It was an engagement.”

It was then, in the dark thickness of the hostile jungle, Niece would soon take on the harsh responsibility of leadership in a firefight.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series on Wednesday, May 24.

About the author

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Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loudcolumn and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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janice

thank you for your service, and welcome home to Sgt. Niece.

Steven

Fascinating story, thanks.

Donald Murchison

Thank you sir for your service!! God Bless

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