Charles Edwards WillbanksPrivate First Class
B CO, 4TH BN, 503RD INF RGT, 173 ABN BDE
Army of the United States
20 October 1947 - 22 November 1967
Mountain View, Georgia
Panel 30E Line 068
The database page for Charles Edwards Willbanks
Sleep sweetly in your humble grave,
1 - Freshly ironed Oxford Blue Shirt, Noisy dinner, 5 minute drink of vodka and a night in the cooler
From a friend,
Charles (Eddie) Willbanks
After graduation Eddie received a draft notice and "to make the best of it", and in a spirit of adventure joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
The "regular" Army would never have done for Eddie. As proud as I would have been to have served my country in the Army, Eddie wanted something special. The 173rd Airborne is an elite group of men who pride themselves on their ability to jump out of airplanes and "live on nothing". "Sky Soldiers", as they are called, wear sky blue scarves and tuck their pants in their boots to let the world know they are 173rd. They jump at 150 mph, "just above treetops" and hit the ground fighting like cats. Nobody ever fit this mold better than Eddie Willbanks. He was tenacious, tough and he didn't know the meaning of the word "quit".
I don't think Eddie ever gave any thought to not going to Vietnam. Children raised in the fifties were told from an early age by people like Harry Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, George C. Marshall, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and many others that the world would fall like "dominoes" to Communism if not defended. We thought it was something we were supposed to do and at the time it would have been cowardice not to have gone to Vietnam. Eddie didn't know anything about Vietnam but he was very much in love with Gail Mann (67). He thought before he got married he would "enjoy a little excitement". In Eddie's mind the first Domino had fallen in Vietnam. So like brave men have always done, most in their late teens and early twenties, he left his girl to serve his country.
Eddie went to Vietnam in July of 1967. The 173rd was assigned the responsibility of locating and destroying North Vietnamese and Viet Cong units in the mountainous northern regions of South Vietnam. After several months of fighting, the North Vietnamese Regular Army set a trap for the 173rd on a hill near Dak To ... Dak To, named for the nearby village (To = hot, Dak = water, after nearby hot springs).
The North Vietnamese Regular Army is not to be confused with the Viet Cong. Unlike the Viet Cong, the NVA or the "Green Hats" were well trained and well disciplined Soldiers from North Vietnam. The 1st Division NVA is the same army that defeated and forced the French to leave Vietnam in the fifties. Until "Dak To" the NVA had been unwilling to meet the American Army "man to man" on the battle field and for the most part left the fighting to the "hit and run tactics" of the Viet Cong. Their objective at Dak To was to inflict a horrible wound on the American Army and destroy America's resolve to continue the war. It was a huge mistake for the Green Hats. Westmoreland reported 4,000 NVA killed. About 4,500 troops of the US 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade faced off 6,000 North Vietnamese troops of the 174th Regiment, 1st NVA Army. The NVA was driven from the field by the overwhelming firepower and the North Vietnamese were forced to withdraw. After meeting the 173rd, the North Vietnamese Army never again pursued them.
Eddie Willbanks received the Bronze Star on Hill 823 at Dak To on November 7, 1967. In the book "Dak To," by Edward F. Murphy, (Page 173), Private 1st Class Willbanks is described saving the life of his First Sergeant Okendo whose gun had jammed. In another situation
Again Eddie is recognized for maneuvering a flame thrower behind an enemy position. I have often thought that Eddie would have won the Silver Star or better had he not been a member of an airborne brigade. But like they say, "It's hard to sore when you fly with Eagles" and the battle field at Dak To was full of eagles. Eddie received the first Oak Leaf Cluster to the Bronze Star in recognition of his heroism.
Eddie was wounded by mortars on the night of the 21st but rather than receiving medical attention he helped re-supply his army and carry other wounded soldiers to safety. He could have been flown out and attended to but he refused and I believe as a result of this decision Eddie bled to death on the morning of the 22nd. Eddie was one of 376 Americans killed in and around Dak To in November 1967.
From a friend,
by his nephew,
A Note from The Virtual WallPFC Charles E. Willbanks died in the bitter fighting for Hill 875. Two Medals of Honor, three Distinguished Service Crosses, and numerous Silver and Bronze Stars were awarded the men who fought there between 19 and 23 November 1967 - but at least 130 Americans died there as well, with hundreds more wounded.
A summary of the battle and a listing of the men who died
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With all respect
Jim Schueckler, former CW2, US Army
Ken Davis, Commander, United States Navy (Ret)
Last updated 08/10/2009