A Miraculous Escape In The Vietnam War – With Bill “Hawk” Albracht: It is Veterans’ Day, and we want to honor those who have faithfully served our country by sharing a Veteran’s story. Today, we have an amazing story of a miraculous escape you don’t want to miss! Tune in to hear Vietnam Vet Bill “Hawk” Albrach share his life-changing experience.
Air Date: 11/11/2020
Guest: Bill Albracht
On-air Personalities: David Barton, Rick Green, and Tim Barton
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Transcription note: Â As a courtesy for our listeners’ enjoyment, we are providing a transcription of this podcast. Transcription will be released shortly. However, as this is transcribed from a live talk show, words and sentence structure were not altered to fit grammatical, written norms in order to preserve the integrity of the actual dialogue between the speakers. Additionally, names may be misspelled or we might use an asterisk to indicate a missing word because of the difficulty in understanding the speaker at times. We apologize in advance.
Faith and the Culture
You found your way to the intersection of faith and the culture. Thanks for joining us here on WallBuilders Live. We got a great interview for you today. We love having veterans come on our program and we get to get their story. And by the way, I’m Rick Green, former legislator and America’s Constitution coach.
And I’m here with David Barton, America’s premier historian, and our founder at WallBuilders. And David, you got to meet the veteran we’re going to have on today; we don’t always get to meet these guys in person. You actually got to meet him and that’s actually how we ended up getting to know him and going to have him on today.
You know, we met so many cool veterans and with this being Veterans Day, we thought this would be a really appropriate program for Veterans Day. I was doing a prayer breakfast, city-wide prayer breakfast in Quad Cities area, which is on the border of Iowa and Illinois.
And as I was doing that prayer breakfast, I was looking at occasions in prayer where God intervened and answered prayers in just dramatic ways, and went through some instance in the American Revolution, went through instance in the Civil War, went through instance in World War II, and so forth.
And right after it was over, and I was finished speaking, this gentleman rushed up to me, and he’s just a sharp looking guy, an older gentleman, but really physically trim and fit, just real impressive. He said what you just said, he said, I lived through that. I lived through those kinds of interventions. He said, what you said is part of my life.
And we got to talk, and he told me that he served for several different presidents in Secret Service, but before that had been in the military, and when he was in Vietnam, that this just dramatically amazing, miraculous thing happened to him there with his troops, he told me just a little bit about it. And then he sent me after that the movie that was done about that amazing event in Vietnam, and thought, okay, this is really cool. We’ve got to get Bill out to talk about this. So I thought it’d be a great interview for Veterans Day.
A Great Interview for Veterans’ Day
Well, we’re excited to have him today and obviously want to shout out to all of our veterans out there, and thank you for your service. And thank you, all of the veterans that we’ve had on the program, they still listen to the program. And we just appreciate them being willing to come on and talk about. A lot of these guys, they, they don’t typically talk about it, so we appreciate them being willing to come on and tell their story because we need to recognize the price has been paid for the freedom we get to enjoy, and what a blessing to get the first-hand accounts.
We’ve done a lot of World War II stories, Korean War, Vietnam War Desert Storm. Today, it’s going to be Vietnam. So stay with us, we’ll be right back with Captain Bill Albracht. He was known as “Hawk” in the war. Captain Albracht when we come back on WallBuilders Live.
Have you ever wanted to learn more about the United States Constitution but just felt like, man, the classes are boring or it’s just that old language from 200 years ago or I don’t know where to start? People want to know but it gets frustrating because they don’t know where to look for truth about the Constitution either.
Well, we’ve got a special program for you available now called Constitution Alive with David Barton and Rick Green. And it’s actually a teaching done on the Constitution at Independence Hall in the very room where the Constitution was framed. We take you both to Philadelphia, the cradle of liberty and Independence Hall and to the WallBuilders library, where David Barton brings the history to life to teach the original intent of our Founding Fathers.
We call it the Quickstart Guide to the Constitution, because in just a few hours through these videos, you will learn the citizens guide to America’s Constitution, you’ll learn what you need to do to help save our constitutional republic. It’s fun, it’s entertaining and it’s going to inspire you to do your part to preserve freedom for future generations. It’s called Constitution Alive with David Barton and Rick Green. You can find out more information on our website now at wallbuilders.com.
A Moment From American History
This is Tim Barton from WallBuilders with another moment from American history. Many today wrongly claim our Founding Fathers were largely atheists, agnostics, and deist. Certainly, some founders were less religious than others, but even they were not irreligious.
Consider Benjamin Franklin, definitely one of the least religious among them. Yet, when the delegates at the Constitutional Convention hit an impasse in their deliberations, it was Franklin who called them to prayer, invoking numerous scriptures to make his point. As he reminded them, “God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this.” So, even the least religious of America’s founders urge public prayer and dependence on God.
For more information about the faith and the Founding Fathers, go to wallbuilders.com.
Welcome back to WallBuilders Live. Thanks for staying with us today. One of our favorite things to do around here is tell the stories of those who were willing to pay the ultimate price for us to be able to be free and we’ve got some incredible stories. You can check them out on our website at wallbuilderslive.com and also get that CD with some of those amazing stories as well.
We got a great one for you today, from the Vietnam War, Captain Bill Albracht is with us. Captain, am I allowed to call you “Hawk”? I always wonder about these protocols, well, I’m not military, can I still call you “Hawk”? That’s a great name.
Welcome Bill “Hawk” Albracht
Yeah, absolutely, you can. Yeah, that was my call sign, in Vietnam, that’s what I was on the radio, and it was kind of earned. So I just didn’t think that I’ll be out there.
I love it. I love it. And you were only 21 years old, the youngest Green Beret captain in Vietnam, and I mean, three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, five Bronze Stars. Phenomenal. You know, at a young age, in fact, before we even talk about exactly where you were, just tell me what it was like at 21 years old to have the lives of those men in your hands.
Well, you know, I take it back a step further than that, and I graduated from Allman Catholic High School in 1966. And most important thing or the best thing I ever did in high school was play varsity football. I was not a student of any type. So my options were John Deere Foundry’s or the military and I absolutely chose the military. So me and my best buddy, Joe Murphy went down to enlist.
Now, I enlisted for three years for airborne infantry to serve my country in Vietnam. But what happened along the way is we ended up getting a lot to test when we first got in, and I qualified and took the officer candidate test. Now, I didn’t do the OCS, the Officer Candidate School, I had no idea what it was. The OCS that we could have been Oklahoma Coke School, I had no idea.
So I’m 18 years old, but there was such a need for small unit infantry, well, just Combat Arms lieutenants back then. I got into OCS at 18, turn 19 mid-August and graduated August 31st as a 19 year old Second Lieutenant. Now, that’s the bad news. The good news is, I was in high school, I had to buy the beer because I always looked older. So none of my sergeants ever knew how old I was.
My older brother Bob, God rest his soul, he’s not with us anymore, but he was in Special Forces, and he was my hero, my role model. He said this is the way to go. So I did, I volunteered. They accepted me. I went through all the training, Special Forces Green Berets, if you will. And my first tour of duty as it was a one year from second to first, one year from first captain. Yes, that’s how quick it was back then. Now it takes years.
And my first tour of duty was in Thailand, where we trained the Royal Thai army. My last tour was Vietnam, and I got there in mid-August of 69. End of August, promoted to Captain, just barely 21 years old. Again, nobody knew how old I was and was not something that I put out for everybody. So the army trained me and trained me well.
For a year, I was in nothing but training, and taking on this position was just the final accomplishment of everything that I’ve trained for. So at 21 years old, yeah, so young and tender age for sure, however, I had been groomed and trained for that.
And then only in-country for two months before the event happened that the movie has been made about “Escape from Firebase Kate” and in your book, “Abandoned in Hell”. So only there in Vietnam for two months, I guess if I’m looking at the calendar, right, before that happened?
In the Vietnam Highlands
No, that’s a little bit more. I was up at central highlands in a mountainous area of Vietnam, or as we had a camp called [inaudible 09:03], it was a substantial Special Forces camp. We had 400 plus Montagnards. Montagnards would be the equivalent to the American India. They’re the native tribesmen of the hill country in the mountainous country of Vietnam, same by the French mountain people, Montagnards …
And they were allies?
Absolutely, our allies. Absolutely in the central highlands. So the Montagnards are the equivalent of the American Indians today. The Vietnamese called them Savages, and the Montagnards hate the Vietnamese, the Vietnamese hate the Montagnards. But they loved us because we went in there and armed them and train them, equip them, and led them against the North Vietnamese which are coming down the whole [inaudible 09:47] trail, coming into the villages, taking their livestock and their young men, and using them as bears to bring things down. So camp [inaudible 09:57] had about 100 of these warriors there and they were substantial target.
Firebase Kate where I was said to had maybe 130 on a Firebase surrounding these three artillery pieces. And the artillery pieces were in… was in around the camp of [inaudible 10:17] for support, never thinking that they would actually be a target for the NVA, the North Vietnamese Army.
And you only had a few dozen American soldiers there, right?
We had one Special Forces Sergeant with me, Danny Pierelli, the consummate, Special Forces Sergeant. He was just a tremendous warrior. And then we had 27 American artillery and two lieutenants, and the rest of us are the men that serve the guns. And we had two little firepower archers and 2155 howitzers. So yeah, they were there. There was nothing going on when I got there on the 28th of October.
And that’s when I did a walk about with Sergeant Pierelli who got there the day before. And a couple things I noticed, one thing was that it was very lacks security. This Firebase Kate was no more than about 50 meters wide, and about less of a football field long. And there they were playing cars or playing volleyball. And nobody seemed it didn’t appear that they were in a war zone, which is I’m not against any of that stuff.
But when I did a walk around, we noticed that the fences were poor, very poor, they weren’t deep enough planning positions over at cover. The concertina wire was in ill repair there was fields of fire when I’d cut away, none of claymores and on and on. So I had a meeting and I said tell them from this point forward, there will be a volleyball, there’ll be card playing, we will make this place defensible. And I had them meeting with the Montagnards tribe men with their command structure.
And okay, and now the sun is getting low, it’s 28 October, so I was getting alone with this guy and I felt pretty good about it at that moment in time that Danny and I, we’re going to make this place defendable anyway. That night, our ambush, our listening post out to the north of us got hit. And it was a lead element of the North fifth amaze unit coming through to… praying, which turned out to be three regiments, two infantry, one artillery, and we found ourselves a morning surrounded by 5,000-6,000 North Vietnamese.
5,000-6,000, and you guys have a couple hundred counting the native?
About 150-160 all through at the time.
Wow. Okay, so what goes through your head at that point? I mean, can you get…
Well, I didn’t know. I had absolutely no idea that we were this vastly outnumbered. So first thing in the morning after we got hit that night, I want to find out what’s out there. So I took patrol out, Danny Pierelli and I we took a couple dozen Montagnards to find out what we’re up against. We have no idea. This is back before satellites and all that.
And we ran smack dab into them, and we got a pretty darn good firefight there with them. And the overhead back, forward air controller the fact that came in. And you know, I’m skipping through a lot of the things as you can well imagine. He said, “Hawk”, he says listen, man, he says, I see what you’re doing, and I see you’re trying to flank this unit that you’re engaged with.
Buddy, they’re vastly outnumber you, you got to get out of there. They’re flanking you. And I knew that if they came around the cart caught us in a pincer, we would never get back to Kate, and we didn’t have enough ammunition to sustain. So we pulled back Kate, buttoned up and let the games begin and they started.
Escape from Firebase Kate
For people that are wondering kind of how this played out, you can actually they show the maps and the whole thing in this documentary, Escape from Firebase Kate. One of the things I loved about it is that conversation between you and the guys that are giving you this information, you’ll have the actual recordings and then they play this in the movie.
So that’s just one of the cool. You don’t usually get that, right? Typically, we just hear the story or read the story. But we actually get to hear you all in the moment when some of those things are happening. Sorry to interrupt you, “Hawk”. Go ahead.
No. Not at all. What happened is at night, during the day, we called Fast Movers, the Jets, the Air Force and we’re stacking them up and they were keeping us from being overrun. They would come out of the jungle woodline there, hundreds and hundreds of them would attack us and the jets and fast movers would come in and drop their napalm and their thousand pound bombs.
And then when they were off station, the helicopter, the gunship guys came in, and they trace them with their rockets. These guys saved our lives. There’s no doubt about it. We could never, ever have held out for five days without that constant air support that we had during the daylight hours.
And at night, we had spooky gunships, which was a World War II cargo ship with three mini guns out of the side of it. And at night, they could walk around per square foot. And the NBA was definitely afraid of spooky, so nights were too bad. But during the day, it seemed nonstop mortars, rockets, and recoilless rifles. But we held on. We held on. This was my first time in combat. But again, remember this, the army had trained me and they had trained me well, I knew what to do and I did.
Baptism by Fire
I’ve used the expression “Baptism by fire”, but this is a whole new level. I mean, this was the first time in actual combat.
Yeah, I had not heard a shot fire now you’re prior to Firebase Kate.
You know, and I know you do leadership training as well, but I cannot imagine this is such a great example of keeping your head about you when everybody else is losing theirs. But doing that just based on training, and not having been in smaller fights is just phenomenal. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve heard the story of Washington at 23 years old at the battle [inaudible 16:43] Halo, but similar situation there. I mean, his hero is taken out of the fight Braddock and he’s for three hours, literally keeping his head about him while everybody else is losing theirs. That’s what I think of immediately as I watched your story.
I’m aware of that and I had drawn the similarities before, but I do see now what you’re saying. But come to about day three, like I said, we were getting mortars and rockets, and then we call this rifle. All of a sudden, we were getting hit by stuff that was seen to shake our very DNA.
It was heavy, heavy duty, and it turned out it was artillery. Now, we’re in earthen bunkers, earthen logs, and it’s not going to withstand an artillery near it. So I called him for the Ford air control and I said, Mikey 2, what’s going on? We’re getting this and he goes, let me get back.
Flying to Cambodia
So he flew to west into Cambodia. We were only maybe a click, click and a half from Cambodia, and he goes “Hawk”, he says it’s coming from across the fence, in other words, it’s coming from Cambodia. Cambodia was a no fire zone. It was also “neutral”. Okay, well, we know better. It’s coming from a Cambodian army camp, and it was the NVA had set up their artillery regiment there.
And I’m thinking, Lord, what do I do now? I can’t send jets in there to knock this out, or we will never, ever sustain this. And the Ford Air controller came back to me and he goes “Hawk”, he says, the only way I can send a support in there as if the ground commander, me, declares a tactical emergency. I declare tactical emergency, Roger, and they went in there and I bombed it back to the Stone Age.
I love it.
Yeah. And as a matter of fact, my name ended up on Nixon’s desk within an hour as somebody who created an international incident, actually, it ended up there twice on the same day, because I did it again.
Oh, wow! Okay, I hate to do this. I have to fast forward because I also want to talk a little bit about your Secret Service days. But in the movie, it goes through how you guys got out of there and help miraculously, I mean, your original game plan was switched at the last minute and otherwise, you guys would have been probably all lost. But you got through this with all of these guys, how many of your guys made it out?
We started out with about 130 and when we got finally to safety, I lost one man.
One out of 130, I mean…
Well, it was a dramatic case. Once they let us know we couldn’t be reinforced, we couldn’t getting more any armor, we couldn’t get any more water. We were literally on our own. And the Montagnards said hey, man, we got to get out of here and we did. And I said the same thing. S
o I had a meeting with the command structure and I said, gentlemen, here’s what’s going on, we get three options, and we can surrender and that’s just never going to happen. Number two, we can die in place, but to what end? We’re not Sam Houston. We’re not holding the Alamo for Sam Houston. Number three, we’re going to attempt to break out and that’s what we’re going to do.
Now, you notice I didn’t say hey, so who is in favor of this and let’s have a vote. No. As a commander, you take stock with your subordinates, you listen to what they say, and then you have to make the decision because the decision rests on your shoulders. So we prepared, we prepared that night for a breakout and the headquarters finally said, yeah, that’s pretty much your only option, we’re going to supply spooky there, be there in front of you and front of you as you exit. But you must go left of the ambush hill. That was the North is hill, we call the ambush hill.
We laid there that night on the north end, tootle down in total complete darkness. And everybody gathered waiting for spooky to get on station. The first one called and said, hey “Hawk, we have to turn back because we got problems, but don’t worry, a second one’s coming. Okay, second one’s coming, called said “Hawk”, we got problems. Don’t worry, a third one’s coming [inaudible 21:06].
No Longer Afraid
And when I went back to check the rear, the south side, the perimeter of the NBA was turner assault. Cart back to the north side. But prior, I skipped one important thing. I was so scared that night as everybody was.
This is the first time that I didn’t have anything to do except wait. I wasn’t calling in anything. I was trying to get some sleep. I was so scared, fearful of dying. And at a certain point, I knew then that I was going to die, and I knew where I was going to die. I knew exactly where it was this gap in the foliage that we had to traverse.
And at that moment in time, I looked up into the cosmos, I looked up into the universe, and I said, “Dear Lord, I know you’re going to take me tonight, and I guess I’m just okay with that. I’m okay. But please, Lord, please let me get as many of these fine young men to safety as I can prior to you taking me and then I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go.”
And at that moment in time, I was no longer afraid. I was no longer afraid. I was calm. I was collected. I was ready to go. And when I went back and checked and heard the NVA coming up to the hill, I ran back and we took off. And as we got down to this gap through the jungle that we had to traverse and go left, they stopped it they wouldn’t, point there won’t further. He was petrified.
So as the leader as the charge, I went up, follow me. And I stepped in through the gap, and by God, there weren’t any NVA there. They’re all up on the south side and we’re on north. And as I’m pushing people through, literally grabbing them by their shoulder rigging and pushing them through the gap, the point man went to the right, instead of the left.
Now, we didn’t have any air support, but I figured if it did get on station, they’re going to want to know where we were. And I’m thinking, you know what, right, left, at this point, I can’t make that decision, so we went to the right. Thank God we did, because the going to the right, on the left, they had up an L-shape ambush set up the NVA bed with a 51 caliber machine gun and there we would not have made it. They were monitoring our radio transmissions, and they knew our exit plan.
A Minor Miracle
So we went right yet another [inaudible 23:53] was a minor miracle, no, not if you were there that night. It was a major miracle. And I can only say you know, we finally did the link up in the jungle at 2:30 in the morning, and we were able to extract out. And I can only say one thing and this is what I speak, I speak on this. It was a hand of God that night, the hand of God is the only reason that I’m here today and that those men all but one were actually we got out to safety.
Wow. Oh, man and the website where you can get links to watch the full movie and hear the whole story Captain-hawk.com, we’ll have a link today at wallbuilderslive.com to make it easy Captain-hawk.com. You can also book Captain Hawkins to speak, get his book, “Abandoned in Hell”. Captain Hawk, you spent 25 years in the Secret Service after this. So first you served us in Vietnam, then you come home and you serve us in the Secret Service for 25 years. You guarded five different presidents, is that right?
That’s right. Now, my six years in a White House, that was with Reagan and Bush back then. That was a great, great time to be in the White House. They were incredible guys, both of them really the finest men you could ever be around.
In fact, I noticed on your website that you had spoken at the Reagan Museum. You’ve spoken at Eureka college where he went to school. And anyway, I love learning about you, and just an incredible story. Really want to encourage people to check you out at Captain-hawk.com. And just want to thank you, man. I mean, our listeners are very patriotic Americans.
They understand that freedom is not free, and we appreciate guys like you so much. And I’m so glad that God not only answered your prayer, but went above and beyond that that night, and got those guys out and got you out because you’ve been a blessing to the country ever since as well.
I just want to close with one quote from a poet, her name is Wilson, turn of the century, I believe, last century, and it stuck to me, it says “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
That’s good. I have never heard that. That’s really good. “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
A Miraculous Escape In The Vietnam War – With Bill “Hawk” Albracht
I love it. I love it. We need that today, don’t we, captain? I mean, we are so in our culture, so much so. And Courage is what we’re missing the most in so many of the things that are happening in the culture. Sure appreciate you, sir. Thank you so much for your time today.
It’s an honor. Thank you.
We’re out of time for today, folks. Thanks so much for listening. You’ve been listening to WallBuilders Live.