In October 1969, William Albracht, the youngest Green Beret captain in Vietnam, took command of a remote hilltop outpost called Fire Base Kate, held by only 27 American soldiers and 150 Montagnard militiamen...
Publishers Weekly "Former Army Special Forces Captain Albracht and prolific author and screenwriter Wolf (Buddha’s Child) present a riveting look at a little-known but compelling Vietnam War story. It centers on how, in October of 1969, Albracht, a young Green Beret officer, managed to lead his vastly outnumbered American troops and their Montagnard tribesmen allies on a desperate and daring escape from a remote hilltop outpost deep in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The authors mix a history of the American war in Vietnam through 1969 with Albracht’s first-person story and the thoughts of survivors interviewed for the book. At Firebase Kate, some 200 Americans and Montagnards—'positioned as bait, designed to lure the North Vietnamese across the [Cambodian] border'—came under a withering five-day attack by three enemy regiments, some 6,000 men. Despite being wounded and near exhaustion—and with virtually no ammunition or water—Albracht brought off a minor miracle, leading 'a hundred and fifty fighting men, many suffering from wounds or battle shock, through a gauntlet of fire' to safety."
Library Journal "In early November 1969, 21-year-old U.S. Army Captain Bill Albracht led 126 men on a desperate, against-all-odds escape from Firebase Kate, located in South Vietnam’s Central Highlands, near the Cambodian border. Albracht and Wolf (Buddha’s Child) present a vivid, often gripping account of the attack by 6,000 members of the People’s Army of Vietnam. Storming Firebase Kate guaranteed Albracht’s and his military unit’s death if they didn’t leave hastily, although the escape plan offered no promise of their staying alive. Initially, Albracht received support from helicopters and 156 anti-North Vietnamese Montagnards (to whom this book is dedicated) but ultimately survival would depend on Albracht’s resourcefulness at moving his men through jungles in pitch-black darkness for 16 hours. VERDICT This fast-paced narrative encapsulates Vietnam War themes, significantly the bravery of grunts and company grade officers and their loyalty to one another, and also bureaucratic mistakes with tragic consequences made by inexperienced officers and government officials too far removed from front-line action. Ultimately, Firebase Kate, as Albracht says, was built in a vulnerable location and its men were “written off” when they could no longer defend it. Readers of such excellent battlefield works as Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway’s We Were Soldiers Once...And Young will delve into this one." Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA
Ray Simmons for Readers' Favorite Gold Medal Award 2019
"I have read a lot of books about war, from ancient battles to the present. I like them maybe because I am a veteran myself. But none has moved me, none has taken me there and made me as proud to be an American fighting man as Abandoned in Hell by William Albracht and Marvin J. Wolf...." Read full review...
Colonel Jim Patterson in The Drop "On October 28th, 1969 I was 8 years old and was only worrying about what type of costume I was going to wear for Halloween. I was aware of a raging war in a faraway country called Vietnam only because I delivered newspapers in my neighborhood and had read about it in some of the headlines of the day. To me, the grim statistics of body counts, aircraft shot down and the pictures of bomb craters were two-dimensional abstracts of a far-away war. Army Special Forces Captain Bill Albracht was only 13 years older than me on that same, fateful day...
Read More of the review by ColOnel Jim Patterson in "The Drop"
"Yes, you read that correctly: Special Forces Captain William “Bill” Albracht was 21 years old as he stepped foot onto the helicopter that would ferry him into the journey of little boys’ dreams and the sorrow of older men’s memories.
"I say 'dreams' because little boys in America dream of growing up to fight in a desperate battle on some hilltop in an exotic foreign land. We grew up watching Cowboy and Indian movies; Pirate adventures; and, WWII movies made when Hollywood supported America and made films about America’s finest. America was a force for good and our battles were just and righteous.
"Sorrows, as older men oft reminisce through the clarifying lens of age to see the folly of the young man’s dreams; the consequences of unbridled passion; and, the heartaches and injuries of missing limbs, brothers-in-arms and friends incurred in time of war.
"This book is all about the journey of one such man, Captain Bill Albracht, at an age crushed between the dreams of a little boy and the remembrances of an older man. He writes in a wistful yet honest voice of the sorrow derived from a man who answered the call to arms of that little boy’s country. He can still taste the bitter betrayal of him and his men by the nation he loves so much.
"This book is not a war story told by a man full of pride. Rather, it is a humble, matter-of-fact first-hand account of a truly incredible and harrowing fight. In fact, after reading it, I contacted Bill to discuss some thoughts and to ask a few questions as to why he worded some of the things in the manner he did. He replied to me that he merely wanted to 'tell the story.' And people……this is one hell of a story.
"Captain Bill Albracht stepped onto the skids of a Huey at 1445hrs on 28 October 1969 and within 10 minutes set down on what was Fire Base Kate. At 1500 hours on 28 October, 1969, the die was cast for Bill and his men in what may very well become known as the tipping point in the war in Vietnam. Five days later, the survivors of Fire Base Kate walked to Bu Prang and into the history books. This is their story.
"Fire Base Kate was euphemistically called an 'experiment' in supporting operations within the Central Highlands of Southern II Corps. It was a strangely contrived hilltop arrayed with two 155 mm and one 105 mm Howitzers. Servicing the Howitzers were 27 artillerymen. In addition to the artillerymen, Capt Albracht had a company of 156 Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) for security and one other Special Forces soldier – Sergeant Dan Pierelli. It was considered an experiment at the time, as the Fire Base was located in close proximity to two other Firebases arrayed in a triangular formation, which allowed massed fires into a very large range fan.
"At this point of the war, our political leadership was stressing the importance of 'Vietnamization' (a policy of the Nixon administration to end American involvement in the war and 'expand, equip, and train South Vietnam's forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops.') However, the chain of command providing supporting infrastructure and command and control of adjacent units failed to inform the occupants of Fire Base Kate that they were mere pawns in a shell game of experimentation in how we were going to continue the war in the face of flagging public interest back home.
"Captain Albracht and Sergeant Dan Pierelli did not even have time to take their boots off that night before they were hit by the probing attacks of the main line 66th NVA Regiment. Adding further danger, the 66th was a battle-hardened unit who cut their teeth fighting the 1st Cavalry Division in the Ia Drang in 1965. The 66th regrouped and fought against the Americans in the battle of Dak To in ’67. Upon their rest and refit, they launched against the Americans bunkered in at Khe Sanh in ’68. Now, in the fall of ’69, they were en route to wreak havoc on the American units aligned on the border of Cambodia. The only thing in their way? Fire Base Kate.
"The five-day battle illustrates the fighting spirit of Captain Albracht and his crew; but also highlights some low points Bill chose not to overtly discuss in his book. One can easily read between the lines to feel the tragic disappointment in some of the 'soldiers' assigned to the Fire Base. For instance, Bill tells of one 'REMF' who cancelled a resupply request in the middle of the fight as 'no one could be using that much ammunition!' Albracht relates this as a funny story – for when he eventually made his way back to the rear, he went hunting for this marplot and most assuredly would have killed him had he not been restrained by fellow soldiers long enough for the individual to make his escape – but there is a haunting sadness of the strategic failures of the time that this story foreshadows.
"I say at the time. However, for warriors in the field today, such as the failure to provide timely indirect fires to Marine Sergeant Dakota Meyer’s unit at the Battle of Ganjgal on September 8, 2009, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, such folly seems timeless. Bill Albracht and his mates felt the same dull blade of the proverbial 10,000-mile screwdriver back in 1969. Sadly, the experimentation of Fire Base Kate and forcing the Vietnamese into the war played about as well then as did the concept of getting the Iraqis or Afghans of today to take an interest in their own national defense. Culture, corruption and political cowardice ruled the day then as it does today.
"This book highlights a moral cowardice on a scale not previously thought possible for those who sent our young men to war. Now, it is almost expected amongst the perfumed princes of our General Officer corps and civilian leadership. But, in 1969, such political cowardice was unimaginable to a young Bill Albracht. Despite the close physical proximity of the US 4th Infantry Division and the South Vietnamese 23rd Infantry Division, no one in the superior chain of command put thought of risking their own troops to secure or rescue a mere 29 US soldiers and a company of 'foreigners.' Sadly, written off by Big Army and the establishment, Captain Albracht and his men hung on with the help of fellow Special Forces soldiers; absolutely fearless and courageous helicopter crews; and, almost non-stop fast-movers operating in an environment so thick that the fact there were no mid-air collisions was a miracle.
"Despite the technology and massive firepower brought to bear by our artillery and airpower, the Command still refused to send ground forces to relieve and secure Fire Base Kate. This cold realization hit Captain Albracht hard on a particularly lonely and desperate low point during a lull in battle one night. At the realization that they were alone, outnumbered and fighting against tremendous odds (having their own heavy weapons systems knocked out), Captain Albracht made the fateful decision to escape and evade off the hilltop and into the surrounding jungle. A jungle that happened to be crawling with thousands of NVA Regulars! How he was able to accomplish this maneuver is the stuff of which legends are made. He and Sergeant Pierelli got everyman back alive with the exception of one individual. That individual, Private First Class Michael Norton, left the perimeter with the group, but his disappearance remains a mystery. Norton left the formation either as an escape and evasion maneuver or - as other soldiers recalled – to run back up the hilltop to retrieve an item left behind. Either way, they never saw this man again. He is presumed MIA/KIA.
"One thing particularly despicable is how 'higher' spun this utter abandonment of American and Allied forces in contact once word got out of their successful escape. The despicable flag officers running the war flipped this on its back and ran with it as a success story. They wrote and marveled at the 'bravery of the Vietnamese who selflessly enabled the Americans to escape and live to fight another day.' If one didn’t know better about the hard realities of the time-space continuum theory, one might logically presume these same idiots lived on to sell the American public stories of the bravery of Iraqi and Afghan forces and their capability to sustain themselves in battle.
"The book will leave a bitter taste in your mouth due to the distasteful nature of politics. It will serve as a reminder to all of us who have manned the walls of the frontier that the marplots and pusillanimous bliss-ninnies we now suffer were alive and well even 45 years ago. As for Bill Albracht, youngest SF Captain in Vietnam and unabashed smart-ass, being denied his career choice of being the 'officer in charge of the Nha Trang Dairy Queen' when queried by Colonel 'Iron Mike' Healy, he got his wish for yet more combat by volunteering for the Mike Force.
"Hey, I said it was a great book … I said NOTHING about the sanity of one Captain William Albracht. But, the bitter taste in your mouth is more than assuaged and balanced by the gut-wrenching truths that this man so eloquently and passionately brings to print."
"An Honor To Serve," Trent Reedy, combat engineer in the Iowa National Guard, including a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Washington Examiner
Capt. Bill Albracht was an outstanding soldier. Graduating from high school in 1966, he was a recruiter’s dream: He wanted to join the airborne infantry. After basic training, he passed the Officer Candidate School exam. At the time, he thought all officers came from West Point. “OCS could’ve been Oklahoma Cooking School, for all I knew,” he said.
After OCS, Albracht thrived in Special Forces school, and then, he volunteered for service in Vietnam. He was absolutely determined to answer his country’s call to fight communism.
He arrived in Vietnam as a 21-year-old captain, very young for the rank and responsibility, but he’d received the best training. Eventually, he was assigned to command Firebase Kate, a Special Forces outpost with three artillery pieces. He arrived at 3:30 p.m. By 11:30, the North Vietnamese attacked. For the next five days, Albracht led 27 American soldiers and 150 Vietnamese militiamen against 6,000 North Vietnamese men. Only when all his artillery was destroyed and the outpost ceased to be a firebase did he withdraw.
“We went out as a unit,” he said. “By the hand of God, and I mean: By. The. Hand. Of. God. We got through. We should never have made it, but we did.”
It’s a bigger story than I can tell here, but you can read more about it in Albracht and Marvin Wolf’s book, Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, and on his website, www.captain-hawk.com.
For his brave wartime service, Albracht received a host of medals, including three Silver Stars, five Bronze Stars (three with Valor devices), three Purple Hearts, two Air Medals (one with Valor), and one Army Commendation Medal (with Valor).
His achievements are beyond anything I could’ve imagined in my own service. He enlisted to fight communism. I enlisted for college money. Yet while I have heard “thank you for your service” for decades, nobody thanked Albracht.
After his tour, Albracht was flown back to Fort Lewis, Washington. Many soldiers were advised not to wear their uniforms due to civilian hostility. Albracht was fortunate. Wearing his dress green uniform with all his medals and carrying a captured enemy rifle, he received many dark glances but was not cursed at or spat upon like many others returning from Vietnam.
Coming home from Afghanistan, my unit landed in Bangor, Maine. We were greeted and thanked by a wonderful group of American Legionnaires and community volunteers, who even offered us the use of their cellphones to call home. It wasn’t until 1996, when Albracht talked to Lt. Col. James “Bo” Gritz at a Vietnam Special Forces reunion, that he heard, for the first time, “Welcome home.”
Sometimes, people are a bit overzealous with their gratitude, endlessly thanking me for their freedom as if I alone made them free. These days, Albracht encounters a lot of guilt from men his age, sob stories about why they didn’t go to Vietnam. “I’m not gonna be a priest and forgive them for their sins,” he said. “They must live with it.”
When thanked for his service, Albracht now replies, “It was my honor to serve.” I heard his sincerity. I heard, and shared, his anger over the way he and his fellow Vietnam veterans were mistreated. Those people must deal with their guilt.
And to every Vietnam War veteran, this old soldier says, “Welcome home. Thank you for your service. God bless you.”