Escape From Firebase Kate is a 1-hour documentary that recounts the events of an intense 3-day siege during the Vietnam War in 1969. U.S. Army Special Forces Captain William Albracht, a 21-year-old from Illinois, is assigned command of Firebase Kate, making him the youngest commanding officer in Vietnam. Only two-dozen American troops and 100 indigenous Montegnard infantry occupy the small artillery outpost near the Vietnam-Cambodia border – just off the Ho Chi Minh trail. The base comes under heavy attack the day Albracht arrives. What is initially assumed as a small contingent of enemy soldiers eventually reveals itself as thousands of North Vietnamese troops making a major push across the border into South Vietnam on an offensive towards nearby Camp Bu Prang.
The events of the film occur during the initial implementation of President Nixon’s policy of Vietnamization, which called for US troops to turn over the war effort to the South Vietnamese Army. Caught in that transition, Firebase Kate receives no support from the South Vietnamese troops in the area, leaving them severely outmanned and outgunned, and in imminent danger of being overrun. Their only option is a desperate late night escape and evasion through a jungle filled with NVA soldiers.
• Primary narrative supplied by 12 of the US soldiers who were on Firebase Kate, including the helicopter and airplane pilots who flew in and around the firebase.
• Actual audio recordings of the communications between ground forces and supporting Air Force gunships transport the viewer back to 1969 to listen to conversations during nightly air strikes.
The film quickly sets the stage with an overview of what’s happening during 1969 regarding the US military involvement and political changes regarding the war. The men of Firebase Kate share their day-by-day recollection of the 3-day siege in a riveting and emotional story that steadily builds towards the life or death escape and evasion. Miraculously, all but one man survives the 7-mile trek to safety. The film concludes with an emotional and honest look at the effects of the war, and the difficult return one man experienced upon his return home.
Central to the story is the connection that exists between William Albracht – the young commander on the ground – and 30-year-old Air Force navigator Al Dykes – who flew over the base to provide support each night of the siege. Dykes provided recordings of the radio communications between the two men to Albracht just weeks after the men escaped in 1969. Excerpts from those tapes are woven throughout the film to provide a true sense of the bond that formed between the two men.
The 2015 release of this historical documentary and inspirational film coincides with the 50th anniversary of the United States official involvement in Vietnam. The film is more than a simple historical depiction of the events that occurred, but rather, it captures the human drama and emotion behind the heroic efforts undertaken to survive in dire circumstances.