Hundreds of folks sporting red, white and blue will line Branson Landing Boulevard Sunday morning while honoring the country and the men and women who protect her as the annual Veterans Day Parade kicks off in downtown at 11:11 a.m. The parade will feature nearly 80 participants, including Grand Marshal William “Hawk” Albracht.
“I had never been to Branson before, and I am beyond impressed,” Albracht said. “The way this town treats our active and retired military and veterans is just, I felt I really needed to see it. Then coming here being a part of the Military Film Festival and the parade, I’m just so honored, I can’t even begin to tell you.”
Albracht, who was the youngest Green Beret captain in Vietnam, along with his men, are the focus of the book Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, as well as the documentary “Escape from Firebase Kate,” which was featured at the Branson Imax Entertainment Complex’s Military Film Festival.
In October 1969, a 21-year-old Albracht took command of a remote hilltop outpost called Firebase Kate, which was held by only 27 American soldiers and 156 Montagnard militiamen. The next morning at dawn, Albracht and his men watched as three North Vietnamese Army regiments, roughly 6,000 men, crossed the Cambodian border and attacked.
Despite being outnumbered almost three dozen to one, he and his men held off the assault for five days. On the sixth day, Kate’s defenders found themselves out of ammo and water. Refusing to let his men die or surrender, Albracht led his troops off the hill and on a daring night march through enemy lines.
At the completion of his tour in Vietnam with the Green Berets, Capt. Albracht was awarded three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, five Bronze Medals and several additional valor awards.
After his military service, Capt. Albracht became a special agent for US Secret Service and Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Washington D.C. Office and has retired after 25 years of service.
“I came home and went to college, and here I am, pushing 26, 27 years old,” he said. “So I take a position as a special agent with the Secret Service in 1975. I came in under Gerald Ford and retired under (George) W. (Bush), but my White House years were with Reagan and Bush in the 1980s, and it was just phenomenal.
“It was the best, and I can’t think of a better time to have been an agent.”
After stepping away from the Secret Service in 2001, Albracht went to work for the Ford Motor Company, where he was responsible for the executive operations and corporate security. He retired for good in 2005 and returned home to Iowa.
Books and Movies
Shortly before stepping away from his “working years,” Albracht began giving a lot of thought to his life, as well as his experiences in Vietnam.
“It all started when I sat down to write about the battle to document it for my family and friends, not for a book, but because I’d been asked a lot about over the years,” Albracht said. “Then a very good friend of mine named Ken Moffett, who was working for then-Congressman Bobby Schilling in Illinois, heard about it, and said ‘Bill, there’s a book here.’ I just thought, well maybe. Now when he latches on to a project, he’s unbelievable, so he got a hold of Joe Galloway, who wrote We Were Soldiers Once and Young with Col. Hal Moore, and even though he said it was right up his alley, Galloway said he was too busy to tackle it, but he knew a guy.”
That guy was a Vietnam veteran and author Marvin J. Wolfe.
“He said absolutely, and boom, we get a book,” Albracht said. “The book, Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, came out in ‘15, and it’s done quite well. Not a best-seller or anything, but it’s consistently sold very well.”
Once the book was released, Moffett again reached out to Albracht, this time to pitch the documentary.
“So Moffett fans out and finds (writer director) Paul Kakert, who just happened to be in the same area we were in,” he said. “So we meet with Paul, and he says yes, then he takes off with it.”
While the book was written by Albracht and Wolfe, the film was written, directed and assembled by Kakert.
“The only part I played in that production was my interview, and to be honest, I was a little leery, but I trusted him with this story,” he said. “But I have to tell you, he did a great job. Once I saw it, I had to tell him what a great job he did.”
While Albracht and others felt the story needed to be told, he also felt the experience of writing the book and participating in the documentary was cathartic.
“You see guys in the documentary that lay it all on the line, and their feelings are raw,” he said.
One of the guys was Air Force navigator Al Dykes, who talked to Albracht every night of the conflict while the Air Force was firing off the mini-guns for support.
“He recorded all of our conversations ... and sent me a copy, which were incorporated into the book and documentary,” he said. “We actually got to meet each other later on in life and became friends again. He has since passed, but he’s in there, and he talks. His part of the documentary, I think, is the best part. He talks about being up in the air, supporting us and other things that happened, and it’s just so moving.”
Saturday at 8:30 a.m., the Military Film Festival at Branson’s Imax Entertainment Complex will wrap up with a second screening of “Escape From Firebase Kate.”
Welcome Home, Again
While America now actively honors and welcomes veterans home on a daily basis, that wasn’t always the case, especially for those who served in southeast Asia.
“Back in 1970 when I came home from Vietnam, it was very hard to be a veteran,” Albracht said. “All my friends, the ones who didn’t serve, had moved on. They were in apprenticeships or had jobs, college or families, and here I come back, I have to catch up, so all those memories, good, bad or horrific, were just locked away and I had to get about the business of life because that’s the way veterans were at that time.
“We knew we were looked down upon, but we didn’t feel that way. We knew we served with honor, but we also knew how the public felt about us, the baby-killing, dope-ravaged war criminals. We knew about it, but we didn’t pay attention to it, so we sought each other out and sort of hunkered down together. Not to cry in our beer or anything, but just to have that common bond.”
That common bond helped veterans of every branch of service, those who saw action, and those with non-combat roles, as well.
“For every man that ever served in combat, who was actually out there toting a rifle and looking for the enemy, there are at least a minimum of a dozen other people in support,” he said. “They wore the uniform of the country, went and did what they were told, and served with honor. Some of them feel they didn’t do enough, and that’s just not true. If we’re not getting what we need, the medical supplies, the logistics, then there is no battle.
“So I always reassure them that their job was just as important as mine. We were all there together, and I couldn’t have done my job, if they didn’t do their job.”
Over time, the veterans grew stronger as a their own close-knit group. Even though they had been there for each other, America had not. Eventually, the country they loved came back around.
“Time goes by, and even though America has a short memory, she also has a conscience,” Albracht said. “So when Afghanistan and Iraq broke out, people remembered, and they didn’t confuse the warrior with the war. These guys coming home now are the direct recipients of how America treated her Vietnam veterans. We know it, they know it, and we’re happy for it.
“We’re all brothers now, and we always will be.”
The Veterans Day Parade begins at 11:11 a.m. Sunday on Branson Landing Blvd.