On Feb. 24, 1967, Captain Hilliard A. Wilbanks, a forward air controller, was dispatched in an unarmed O-1 Bird Dog aircratt 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 ot 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 O-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., Jan. 24, 1968.
See the full citation from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.
For more information see the National Museum of the USAF website.
See the AFHSD publication: Air Force Heroes in Vietnam.