Wilbanks memorial effort taking off
by Rob Moore
Tribute to fallen Air Force pilot progressing
A memorial to Cornelia native Hilliard A. Wilbanks, U.S Air Force captain who was awarded the Congressional Air Force Medal of Honor posthumously in 1967, is taking flight.
"This is something that is so, so past due," said former Sen. John Foster, a member of the memorial committee, on Friday. The Habersham County native died Feb. 24, 1967, near Dalat, Republic of Vietnam, while attempting to draw enemy fire away from a platoon of friendly troops.
In 1999 a group of community leaders began discussing the development of a lasting memorial to Wilbanks in his hometown. After discussion and study, the committee decided the memorial should be placed in front of the Cornelia Community House. Now, more than 18 months later the effort is coming to fruition.
The memorial has been designed and ordered. Now organizers face the task of paying for it - that's where they are counting on support from individuals, groups and businesses.
"We're ready to go." Foster said. "We have placed the order for the monument and we're ready to receive money. We are now receiving contributions - we are seeking contributions."
Officials hope to raise a minimum of $15,000 in charitable donations to fund the memorial. "Our goal is to get this up and going and have a dedication ceremony around Memorial Day in May," Foster said.
Already, the effort has received support from Harvey Adams of the Habersham County Veterans Memorial Committee and Grant Reeves Post 7720, Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Cornelia.
"It is the most gratifying project that I have ever been involved in," Foster said, adding that people are willing to get involved in the effort. "The least we can do is honor his memory and see to it that he is remembered," Foster said, his sentiments echoed by committee members Annette Fricks of Community Bank & Trust. "We hope that people will respond to our requests for funding."
The six-foot-tall, two-sided memorial will be made of polished black granite from Elberton with text and etchings on both sides. A 10-X-24-inch bronze plaque affixed to the monument will explain the significance of the Congressional Medal of Honor, sketches show. Granite benches will be placed on either side of the memorial so that those who visit can site and read the inscriptions. The entire display will be lighted.
Wilbanks, a member of the 21st Tactical Air support Squadron, was based at Nha Trang Air Force Base. The memorial will state
"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.
Captain 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 unhestitatingly assumed a covering, close support role.
Flying through a hail of withering fire at treetop level, Captain Wilbanks passed directly over the advancing enemy and inflicted many casualites by firing his rifle out of the side window of his aircraft. Despite increasing intense anti-aircraft fire, Captain 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 forces. Captain 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 United States Air Force.
To the left and right of the inscription will appear a 16-by-16-inch etching.
On the opposite side of the memorial, which will feature pertinent information such as rank, organization, place, date, birthplace and burial site, will be a 14-by-20-inch etched portrait of Wilbanks and an etching of the Air Force Medal of Honor.
At the bottom of that side will be the bronze plaque describing the medal and stating:
"The Medal of Honor is awarded in the name of Congress to a person who, while a member of the Armed Forces, performs a deed of personal bravery or self-sacrifice so conspicuous as to clearly distinguish the individual above his comrades.
Wilbanks was born in Cornelia on July 26, 1933. He was buried in Fayette Methodist Cemetery in Fayette, Miss.
Eligibility is limited to members of the Armed Forces of the United States in active federal military service. Hilliard a.
Wilbanks was reared in Cornelia, GA, in a home located within 400 yards of this monument."
"The Northeast Georgian", page 1, January 23, 2001
Article provided by Joni Mabe