ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - Not all heroes can be spotted right away. William "Bill" Albracht is living proof of this.
The G-1 (Human Resources) Wellness Division hosted a real-time resilience program event featuring Albracht as the main speaker here, April 11.
Born and raised in Rock Island, Albracht was awarded three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, and is a five-time recipient of the Bronze Star for his heroic actions. He was the youngest Special Forces captain to have fought and commanded in the Vietnam War.
Albracht said he felt honored to speak at RIA.
His story goes back to Oct. 28, 1969. Albracht, a then-21-year-old Army junior officer in Vietnam, arrived at Firebase Kate, a remote hilltop outpost in South Vietnam.
He was tasked with leading combat troops consisting of 27 American Soldiers and 156 Montagnard militiamen.
The Montagnards were indigenous people of Vietnam who were recruited into military service by the U.S. Special Forces and served as rapid responders.
Albrecht said he knew he was the youngest captain to lead any troops, but didn't want others to know because he was afraid Soldiers wouldn't trust him.
"I had just turned 21 the previous August," Albrecht said, "My sergeants never knew how old I was. I was never going to reveal that."
The morning after Albracht took command, about 6,000 North Vietnamese troops crossed the Cambodian border and attacked Firebase Kate.
Outnumbered 40 to 1, Albracht and his men held off the attack with air support, B-52 long-range attacks, and hand-to-hand fighting.
Albracht demonstrated great courage, repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire while directing combat operations.
He provided guidance for the distribution of ammo and water to his men and led rescue operations of wounded Soldiers - often shielding others with his own body.
Albracht talked about the connection between trust and leadership.
He recalled a time when he made the decision to go look for one of his missing men. When he found the wounded Soldier, he carried him on his shoulders back to camp.
"Why would the commander risk his life for this individual? Why not send someone else?" Albrecht asked the audience.
"I had to show them that I was worthy of their trust, that I would put my life on the line at the same time, because I would never ask anybody to do anything that I hadn't done or wouldn't do," Albrecht explained.
He said that at that point his men knew they had a good leader, someone they would not hesitate to follow.
Even wounds from a rocket's fragments did not interfere with Albracht's commanding duties. He refused medical treatment and continued leading his men through sleepless nights of enemy attacks.
After five days and nights of furious battle, Albracht and his troops realized they would soon run out of food, water, and ammo. With aerial resupply no longer available, Albrecht knew he had to think of something, quickly.
Death or surrendering were not options, he said.
The only option they had was something never attempted before, he said, and something that was never repeated afterward.
"We are going to attempt to break out," Albracht told his Soldiers.
Albracht said this was the time when leadership really became leadership. He found himself making a decision to try to save the lives of almost 150 Soldiers.
"When you are in a leadership position, sometimes things are thrust upon you," Albrecht said.
"Sometimes you have to make a decision and live with it for the rest of your life, so you make the best one with what you have available," he continued.
Albracht led his men through the dense jungle over the hill and through enemy lines in the darkness of night, despite many of his troops being wounded.
Albracht said he was determined not to give up on them and that he was going to take them home.
He succeeded. After leading his Soldiers, they finally reached another U.S. military unit about five miles away.
Michael Hutchison, deputy to the commander, U.S. Army Sustainment Command, presided over the resiliency presentation and provided the closing remarks.
He thanked Albracht for sharing his story of leadership and resiliency, and talked about the importance to pull through every day adversity.
"We have a lot of pressure and stressors in our work environment and at home," Hutchison said. "It is really important that we take those steps to take care of ourselves and learn to bounce back."
At the end of the presentation, Hutchison presented Albracht with an appreciation plaque.
Albracht is the author of "Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam's Firebase Kate", a book co-written with former Army photographer and co-author Marvin Wolf.
Albracht's story has also been reconstructed into a television documentary named "Escape from Firebase Kate", directed and produced by Paul Kakert, an independent videographer originally from Davenport, Iowa.
After his military service, Albracht served as U.S. Secret Services special agent.
During a 25-year career, he protected six presidents and their families, and ensured the safety of visiting foreign leaders.