Hilliard Almond Wilbanks was born on July 26,1933 in Cornelia, Habersham County, Georgia.
He was educated in public schools and graduated from Habersham High School in 1950. Upon completion of high school he joined the Air Force in 1950.
Medal of Honor Event
On 24 February 1967, Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks, a forward air controller, was dispatched in an unarmed 0-1 Bird Dog aircraft to assist in an operation against enemy forces attacking near Dalat, South Vietnam.
While flying reconnaissance for a South Vietnamese Ranger Battalion, Captain Wilbanks discovered hostile
units concealed on two hilltops. He promptly called in helicopter gunships by radio and alerted the Rangers advancing into the area.
Realizing that their ambush was being compromised, the enemy reacted with a barrage from mortars, machine guns, and automatic weapons. Captain Wilbanks received much of this fire as he marked the enemy positions with white phosphorus rockets for the gunships. He himself opened fire with an M-16 rifle that he carried in his plane when he spotted forward Ranger squads that were pinned down and about to be overrun. Firing out of the side window of his 0-1, Captain Wilbanks distracted the enemy troops and momentarily slowed their advance.
The outnumbered Rangers were afforded a chance to withdraw as the attackers diverted their fire against the low-flying aircraft. Despite the hits being scored on his plane, Captain Wilbanks persisted in covering the withdrawal. On his third pass, he was severely wounded and crashed in the battle area. The Rangers managed to rescue Captain Wilbanks from the wreckage of his plane, but he died while being evacuated to a hospital.
For his heroic support of the Rangers, Captain Wilbanks was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The presentation was made to his widow by Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown at the Pentagon, Washington, D. C. on 24 January 1968.
DTIC.mil Air Force Report Summarizing the Vietnam Era
Hilliard Wilbanks joined the Air Force in 1950, and served as an air policeman with the Strategic Air Command during his first four years of service. He was then accepted into the aviation cadet program, and became a commissioned officer in June 1955. After serving as an instructor for a few years, he qualified as a fighter pilot in the early 1960s.
He arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 as a forward air controller with the 21st Air Support Squadron. He was still flying, but instead of a sleek fighter jet, he was piloting a Cessna O-1E Bird Dog, with a top speed of about 105 mph. FACs were the key link in providing close air support to ground troops fighting in the Vietnam jungle. By February 24, 1967 he had flown 487 combat missions and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and 17 Air Medals. He had spotted numerous enemy forces and directed uncounted fighter strikes against them, saving hundreds of allied lives. When Captain Wilbanks lost his life he was within two months of returning home to his wife and four small children.
On January 24, 1968, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown presented the Medal of Honor to Wilbanks' widow in the Pentagon, Washington, D. C.
Wilbanks, aged 33 at his death, was buried in Fayette Methodist Cemetery, Fayette, Mississippi.
Medals and Awards
Medal of Honor
The Distinguished Flying Cross
Air Medal with 19 Oak Leaf Clusters
Air Force Commendation Medal
Air Force Good Conduct Medal
Army Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Service Medal with 1 Bronze Service Star
U. S. Vietnam Service Medal
Armed Forces Air Force Reserve Medal
RVN Gallantry Cross with Silver Star
Vietnam Campaign Medal
Air Force Outstanding Unit Award
Air Force Longevity Service Award with 3 Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters
Small Arms Expert Marksmanship
Captain Wilbanks is a member of the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame.
A six-foot tall, two-sided black granite memorial was erected in his home town, about 400 yards from where he was born, commemorating the country boy who, without hesitation, flew a Cessna into battle and into history.
In 2012 the Habersham County, Georgia middle school was renamed in Captain Wibanks honor .
The Hilliard A Wilbanks Foundation was formed to provide scholarships to high school students furthering their education while participating in ROTC.
Copyright 2013 Hilliard A Wilbanks Foundation