Born in Cornelia, Georgia, Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks enlisted in the USAF and served 4 years as an air policeman before being accepted for flight school. Prior to his assignment in Southeast Asia, he flew F-86 aircraft and served as a flight instructor. Flying the a-IE Bird Dog in Vietnam from April, 1966 until February, 1967, Captain Wilbanks earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with 18 Oak Leaf Clusters. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Among the 'bravest of the brave," Captain Wilbanks was one of only two of the many USAF pilots who served as forward air controllers during the Vietnam War to receive our country's highest military award. On February 24, 1967, he flew his 488th and last mission in answer to a call for help from a South Vietnamese Ranger battalion. The Rangers had been sent to help another unit and were concerned about a possible enemy ambush. Flying visual reconnaissance ahead of the battalion, Captain Wilbanks' intensive search revealed a well-concealed and numerically superior hostile force poised to ambush the advancing Rangers. The Viet Cong, realizing that 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 forces that were pinned down by devastating fire. With full knowledge of the limitations of his unarmed, unarmored, light reconnaissance aircraft and the great danger imposed by the enemy's vast firepower, Captain Wilbanks passed directly over the advancing enemy forces and inflicted many casualties by firing his rifle out of the side window of the aircraft. Despite increasingly intense anti-aircraft fire, he continued to completely disregard his own safety and made repeated low passes over the enemy to divert their fire away from the Rangers. During his final courageous attack, he was mortally wounded and his bullet-ridden aircraft crashed between the opposing forces.
For his gallant action, unparalleled concern for his fellow man, and his extraordinary heroism which was in the highest traditions of military service, Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks was enshrined in the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on April 21, 2001.