QUAD CITIES (KWQC) — An Alleman High School grad has had an adventurous life and is now making headlines again. Bill Albracht spent 25 years as a secret service agent, protecting six presidents and their families and other heads of state. But it is his service in the military that is taking center stage now.
Bill earned the distinction of being the youngest captain to command combat troops in Vietnam. Due partly to the incredible loss of commanders in war in the late 1960’s. After holding the story in for decades, the highly decorated Green Beret is now on a nationwide book tour, telling his incredible story of the ultimate test of his will, not just to lead, but to survive.
Click image to visit Albracht’s Facebook page.
“Chicken Hawk, Chicken Hawk! We’re coming in hot.”
This is the actual radio chatter, late October, 1969. Vietnam near the Cambodian border. Chicken Hawk, the handle for Bill Albracht.
“As long as they hear you up there, they won’t try a lot. They know what your people can do.”
He had just arrived at Firebase Kate, one of three small hilltop fire support bases covering a special forces camp. Kate was home to 27 American artilerymen and 130 Montagnard tribesman, or mountain people. Fierce fighters. When the new commander arrived, men were playing volleyball, cards, not expecting much trouble.
We were such a minor target. I was not expecting an attack.” Says Albracht.
But he ordered immediate defensive preps just in case. And in just a matter of hours, they would all be put to the test as a patrol waded into the waist high grass in the dense jungle below their hill.
“All hell broke lose. VC, the Viet Cong came hot and heavy.”
Albracht called in Spooky for air support. Believing the threat was over, they went to sleep, and got a wakeup call they would never forget.
“Crack of dawn, rockets, artillery, bullets. Lots of casualties. Everything. Mortar shells. Small arms.”
Instead of backing away, Bill grabbed 40 men and took the fight to them. Bills men tried to flank the enemy away from nearby ambush hill, but the pilots warned them, thousands were instead flanking them. Their point man, a Montagnard, down. Albracht was determined to get him out.
“I needed to earn their trust that I would go the extra mile for them for them. I knew I would ask them to go extra mile for me.”
Running through the high grass, he came out with the man in a fireman’s carry. They returned to Fire Base Kate, but the fight was far from over. The North Vietnamese were determined to finish them off.
“They were coming at us in waves.”
Air support and artillery from other units helped, but the enemy just kept coming… and brought in antiaircraft.
“They blew Joker out of the of the air. It became suicide for close air support and helicopters.”
Now, on their own, canons taken out, left with hand to hand fighting and small arms as the enemy surged back and forth through the wire.
“Was I afraid? Not while we were busy. Quiter times.”
But over the five day siege, there was very little quiet. Running low on everything including sleep, some men were shell shocked. Albracht himself wounded from shrapnel, but the men here kept fighting, and holding out hope. Their last hope, that special forces strikers would parachute in to get them get out.
“We saw them land, engaged by 1000 enemy to their 200.”
So close, but the rescuers themselves had to dig in where they were. Higher command sent word no help would come. Perhaps not worth the risk to save the hill, to save Bill ‘s men. They had three choices; surrender, die in place or fight their way out on foot.
Thousands of North Vietnamese were amassing to the north. The sounds of the snipping of the barbwire revealed how close they were.
In darkness, a final call to Spooky to clear a path through the jungle to the south. But Spooky could not come. The only support, the voice on the radio.
“I looked to the Almighty and said, ‘I understand I’m gonna die today. I’m not gonna see another sunrise. But before you take me, let me get my men to safety before you do.’”
He ordered his men to run as fast as they could to the south and somehow, some way, all but one American made it out. But that one loss would haunt him for decades.
Ron Ross had just arrived.
“Young guy from Appleton, Wis. His eyes were so blue. Newborn. Going on R & R in three days.”
Bill was determined to get him out to see his baby boy. The aircraft to take him was just 30 yards away. Bill lead the way on a dead run.
“I saw the orange tail as the rocket came right at me. I dove towards a ditc. The blast blew me into it. I was not hurt. Ross was hit through the neck he bled out in 30 seconds.”
That feeling would never leave him and years later he gave up trying to hold it all in. He had two things he just had to do. First meet with Ron Ross son…
“I looked into his eyes, the same blue, comforting to me to tell him his dad would be so proud of him. That the last thing he talked about before he died was how proud he was to be your father.”
Second, take the horrors from his mind and put them on the page.
“This book is cathardic. It is purging the demons.”
And paying tribute, chapter by chapter, to all of those abandoned in a tough chapter in history. Closing the book on Fire Base Kate once and for all.
Bill won’t talk about his commendations, but we will.
Among them, three silver stars for gallantry in action. Five bronze starts, three for combat valor. Three purple hearts, wounded in action, one of those injuries coming within 24 hours of his landing at Firebase Kate.
“Abandoned in Hell” Facebook page