Rank Insignia Previous Honoree ID Next Honoree ID

honoree image
First Name: Hilliard

Last Name: Wilbanks

Birthplace: Cornelia, GA, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Home of Record: Atlanta, GA
Middle Name: Almond

Date of Birth: 26 July 1933

Date of Death: 24 February 1967

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1950 - 1967
Hilliard Almond Wilbanks

•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


Hilliard Almond Wilbanks
Captain, U.S. Air Force
Medal of Honor Recipient
Vietnam War

Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks (26 July 1933 - 24 February 1967) was an officer and pilot in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for sacrificing his life while supporting a unit of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) at Di Linh, near Da Lat, South Vietnam.

Hilliard Almond Wilbanks was born 26 July 1933 and raised in the small, rural community of Cornelia, GA. This area, tucked into the northeastern corner of the state, was almost isolated in the 1960s, yet seven of its men died in Vietnam. One of them, Wilbanks, earned the Medal of Honor in a true-to-life David vs. Goliath fight. Wilbanks entered the Air Force from Atlanta, GA.

Wilbanks was a fighter pilot, but he arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) 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 24 February 1967, Wilbanks 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. He was within two months of returning home to his wife and four small children.

Late in the afternoon of the 24th, Wilbanks was in the air above the Central Highlands, about 100 miles north of Saigon, flying reconnaissance for a South Vietnamese Ranger Battalion. He discovered hostile units concealed on two hilltops. The Rangers were on foot, making their way through a tea plantation that gave them little or no cover. They were walking into a trap.

As Wilbanks flew his O-1E on a low-level sweep of the area, he radioed a warning to the Rangers. The enemy troops, seeing his plane, knew their ambush was being compromised, so they reacted with a barrage from mortars, machine guns and automatic weapons. Wilbanks flew through the heavy fire as he marked the area with white phosphorus rockets. The Viet Cong, knowing that fighters would soon be coming, charged down the slopes toward the outnumbered Rangers.

Wilbanks watched the drama from above and realized the fighters wouldn't arrive in time to save Ranger lives. The enemy force needed to be delayed a little longer. Diving toward the advancing troops, Wilbanks fired his remaining phosphorus rockets. The line momentarily stopped, but the Viet Cong were old hands at this and knew he had no more rockets so they resumed their advance. Still, the fighters hadn't arrived. Wilbanks had one more weapon, an M-16 automatic rifle. Grabbing his rifle, he began a series of strafing runs at about 100 feet, firing through the side window and reloading between passes. He managed to distract the enemy troops and momentarily slowed their advance. The Viet Cong diverted their fire against the low-flying O-1E. On his third pass, Wilbanks was severely wounded and crashed in the battle area. An Army Ranger ran to his plane and pulled the unconscious Wilbanks from the wreckage. A flight of F-4s roared in to strafe the enemy while a chopper picked up the wounded Wilbanks. He died while being evacuated to a hospital. For his heroic actions, Wilbanks was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Medal of Honor

Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Air Force, 21st. Tactical Air Support Squadron, Nha Trang AFB, RVN.

Place and date: Near Dalat, Republic of Vietnam, 24 February 1967.

Entered service at: Atlanta, GA. Born: 26 July 1933, Cornelia, GA.

Citation: For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As a forward air controller Capt. Wilbanks was pilot of an unarmed, light aircraft flying visual reconnaissance ahead of a South Vietnam Army Ranger Battalion. His intensive search revealed a well-concealed and numerically superior hostile force poised to ambush the advancing rangers. The Viet Cong, realizing that Capt. Wilbanks' discovery had compromised their position and ability to launch a surprise attack, immediately fired on the small aircraft with all available firepower. The enemy then began advancing against the exposed forward elements of the ranger force which were pinned down by devastating fire. Capt. Wilbanks recognized that close support aircraft could not arrive in time to enable the rangers to withstand the advancing enemy, onslaught. With full knowledge of the limitations of his unarmed, unarmored, light reconnaissance aircraft, and the great danger imposed by the enemy's vast firepower, he unhesitatingly assumed a covering, close support role. Flying through a hail of withering fire at treetop level, Capt. Wilbanks passed directly over the advancing enemy and inflicted many casualties by firing his rifle out of the side window of his aircraft. Despite increasingly intense antiaircraft fire, Capt. Wilbanks continued to completely disregard his own safety and made repeated low passes over the enemy to divert their fire away from the rangers. His daring tactics successfully interrupted the enemy advance, allowing the rangers to withdraw to safety from their perilous position. During his final courageous attack to protect the withdrawing forces, Capt. Wilbanks was mortally wounded and his bullet-riddled aircraft crashed between the opposing forces. Capt. Wilbanks' magnificent action saved numerous friendly personnel from certain injury or death. His unparalleled concern for his fellow man and his extraordinary heroism were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.

On 24 January 1968, Secretary of the Air Force Harold Brown presented the Medal of Honor to Wilbanks' widow at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.

Medals and Awards

Medal of Honor
Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart
Air Medal (17)

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The name Hilliard Almond Wilbanks is inscribed on Panel 15E - Line 88.


Wilbanks was inducted as 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.

Death and Burial

Captain Hilliard Almond Wilbanks was killed in action on 24 February 1967. He is buried at Fayette Methodist Cemetery in Fayette, MS.

Honoree ID: 1110   Created by: MHOH




Honoree Photos

honoree imagehonoree imagehonoree image

honoree imagehonoree image

honoree image