Re-printed from qconline.com
By John Marx, firstname.lastname@example.org
Moline’s Ken Moffet and Rock Island’s Joe Murphy are leading a charge to right to what they — and many others believe — is a wrong.
Mr. Murphy and Mr. Moffet, both Vietnam War veterans, say William Albracht deserves to be a Medal of Honor recipient for his heroics at Fire Base Kate during the Vietnam War.
They say the Department of the Army erred in making Mr. Albracht a Silver Star recipient — his third such honor for heroism — last December.
“I am aware of what is going on, but I have nothing to do with the process,” said Mr. Albracht, of Moline, a retired Secret Service agent. “I was flattered and graciously accepted the Silver Star, and I’m flattered by those doing what they are doing, but it’s their project, not mine.”
Forty-three years ago, Mr. Albracht, a 21-year-old Green Beret captain, was in charge of United States military evacuation at the battle site known as Fire Base Kate in the Quang Duc province of South Vietnam.
Under siege for days by enemy insurgents, Mr. Albracht’s leadership, his calm under extreme duress and care for countless other soldiers was exemplary, supporters say. Written and audio transcripts from the siege show that Capt. Albracht was responsible for saving hundreds of lives.
The latest push to honor him began when Mr. Moffet, Veterans Case Worker for former Congressman Bobby Schilling, attended the Silver Star ceremony for Mr. Albracht at the Rock Island Arsenal.
“It was hearing again what Capt. Albracht did that struck Joe (Murphy) and I,” Mr. Moffet said. “His numerous heroic acts and the lives saved by him alone, meets the criteria of the Medal of Honor. We believe there were inadequacies in the review process (by the Department of the Army), so we decided to push on and to seek help.”
The two took their plea to Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk’s office. Mr. Moffet said he received verbal confirmation in December that Sen. Kirk’s office would look into the situation.
“Those of us involved in this effort are not satisfied with the effort by Sen. Kirk’s office,” Mr. Moffet said. “In three months, I have received one email from a Sen. Kirk rep concerning this issue. I have sent nearly one dozen emails, and left as many phone messages, none of which were returned.”
In an email, Mr. Moffet said he met with Rep. Cheri Bustos’ district director, Heidi Schultz, to request Rep. Bustos’ assistance.
“In less than one week, Ms. Schultz has already made contact with several congressional liaisons in Washington, D.C. who are assisting her with the process of how to best make this work,’ ” Mr. Moffet wrote. “A letter is being drafted to address this very issue.”
Mr. Moffet said Vietnam Veteran associations across Illinois are working on ways to get the Department of the Army to take another look at Mr. Albracht’s situation.
“The movement to make this right has the support of many people, not just locally, but statewide,” Mr. Moffet said. “The goal is to simply get the Department of the Army to take a closer look.”
In a ceremony held at the First Army headquarters on Arsenal Island, the Rock Island native was presented with his third Silver Star, a rarity in the military. He previously was awarded two Silver Stars from other actions against enemy forces in Vietnam.
Before a standing-room-only crowd, Maj. Gen. Michael Smith detailed Albracht’s actions back in fall of 1969 that led to him earning the third-highest award for gallantry in combat.
Just 21 years old then, Albracht — one of the youngest Army Special Forces captains — arrived at a remote outpost in South Vietnam known as Fire-Base Kate on Oct. 28, 1969. That same day, North Vietnamese forces attacked the base.
“Against great odds and while being greatly outnumbered by the North Vietnamese, Capt. Albracht led
his soldiers through the first wave of attacks,” Smith said, adding that Albracht and his men were outnumbered 40-1. “It was not looking good for the home team.”
While under enemy fire, Albracht carried a wounded soldier to safety and then risked his life again by directing medical evacuation helicopters.
“At one point, he exposed himself to enemy fire to wave off approaching Medevac helicopters — who were vulnerable to B-40 rockets — while attempting to land,” Smith said.
Later wounded himself, Albracht refused treatment and evacuation “so he could lead the fight.”
Days later with supplies running low, he executed orders to evacuate the remaining 150 U.S. soldiers and South Vietnamese soldiers. On Nov. 1, 1969, he led the group through darkness into the dense jungle to link up with another unit five kilometers away.
“For six hours, Albracht and his men persevered, plowing through the jungle with the North Vietnamese in hot pursuit,” Smith said.
Finally near a wide-open clearing, he “sensed a military force was present but was unsure the other side was occupied by the friendly ‘Mike-Force’ or a North Vietnamese ambush. Albracht then walked alone through the clearing to find the friendly ‘Mike-Force’ was on the other side.” He then led his soldiers “stealthily through more enemy lines” to safety.
Smith said a third Silver Star puts Albracht — “one of the Quad-Cities’ own” — in “an elite group which includes some of our nation’s greatest warriors, such as former General of the Army Douglas MacArthur and Col. David Hackworth.”
Albracht, now of Moline, went on to a long career with the U.S. Secret Service, protecting many of the nation’s leaders. He also received three Purple Hearts and five Bronze Star medals during his military career.
Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., who worked with the First Army to have the long-awaited award presented to Albracht, reminded the crowd that it was an “era of national unrest and opposition that Capt. Albracht performed his heroic deeds and that is what makes his heroism especially worthy of our honor today.”
After finally receiving his Silver Star 43 years later, Albracht told the crowd how on some days there will be a sound, a smell or a phrase that takes him right back to the war.
Albracht was joined at the ceremony by three generations of his family, including his siblings, children, grandchildren and wife, Mary, Albracht.
“I never felt I was needed more and never had I been more scared. I was to lead 150 odd souls to safety. Surrender was never an option,” he said, adding that he would lead his men “out of harm’s way or I would die trying.”
One special guest at the ceremony, Lt. John Kerr, shared the same memories, having been among those 150 soldiers back in 1969.
“He’s a hero, no doubt about it,” he said. “He’s absolutely a hero.”
Kerr, who now lives in Cedar Rapids and received a Bronze Star himself for his actions, recalled how he was the officer in charge of artillery during those long days.
“Everybody was doing the best they could,” he said. “But Bill clearly was the leader.”
Schilling said his office was able to locate 28 of those 150 soldiers and read comments gathered from three of those men. Robert Johnson, an artillery man, wrote, “We placed our lives in Capt. Albracht’s hands and hoped for the best. We were all prepared to die before midnight on Nov. 1.”
According to Schilling, Albracht’s “self-sacrificing nature” made him the only soldier to survive the siege and not receive an award for valor. He said Albracht was to receive it in a ceremony soon after the action, but when a helicopter arrived to pick him up to take him to the ceremony, he had learned of four wounded soldiers who need to be taken to a field hospital. He asked the pilots to take them there first, missing the ceremony.