Talking Proud --- Military

The O-1 "Bird Dog," the toughest dog in the fight, "our little flivver"

March 26, 2006

The Bird Dog in the Vietnam-Laos Wars

Capt. Hilliard A. Wilbanks, USAF, 21st TASS: The only O-1 FAC pilot in the Vietnam-Laos Wars to receive the Medal of Honor. Knowing fighters were a distance away, and time was of the essence, he ran three strafing runs firing his M-16 out the window before the enemy got him. He saved an ARVN Ranger Battalion and some American Rangers in the process.


We will start our mission summaries with the only O-1 FAC pilot to receive the Medal of Honor, Capt. Hilliard A. Wilbanks, USAF, 21st TASS, Nha Trang, RVN.

Within 10 months of flying as a combat FAC in Vietnam, he had flown 487 combat missions, received the Distinguished Flying Cross and 17 Air Medals.

On February 27, 1967, he died trying to save a Vietnamese Ranger Battalion from ambush by a VC battalion 100 miles north of Saigon.

The well concealed enemy, seeing his aircraft on its low level sweep of the area, knew their cover was busted and decided to attack the Rangers.

This is an Army Bird Dog flying road patrol, something like that flown by Capt. Wilbanks. This guy looks a little lower than 100 ft, but what's a few feet amongst friends when you are this low! In any event, you get the idea of what Wilbanks was doing from the photo. Photo credit: Ron Picardi, Alpha Co., 2-22 Infantrym Dau Tieng, RVN 1966-67. Presented by 22nd Infantry Regiment Society.

Wilbanks flew through their fire a few times, marking them with his rockets. He knew, however, that fighter aircraft were not immediately available, so he attacked the enemy force firing his M-16 rifle out his window, flying strafing runs at 100 feet, reloading as he turned around to come back at them again. The enemy got him on his third pass.

An Army Ranger ran to his crashed aircraft, pulled him from the wreckage, called in a medevac, but he died on the way to the hospital.

A flight of F-4 Phantom IIs arrived and together with a few Army gunships took care of business during the Ranger extraction.

John Frisbee, writing for
Air Force Magazine's February 1985 edition, said this:

"It was David against Goliath when Forward Air Controller Hilliard Wilbanks single-handedly took on a Viet Cong battalion."

On September 23, 2000, Dr. Charlie Jones presented remarks at the dedication ceremony of the FAC Monument at Hurlbnurt Field Airpark, Florida. Speaking about Capt. Wilbanks, he said this:

"We especially remember with great pride, yet deep sadness, the heroic deeds of our brother Hilliard Wilbanks. We remember the lasting saga of him deliberately flying himself between a large and determined enemy and his friends on the ground, placing himself in great danger's way for others, firing his personal weapon through a cockpit window. How he repeatedly exposed himself to death in order to shield others from his eventual same fate. In so doing he died a hero's death!"

Go to The Army's 74th Recon Aviation Company