Habersham County is nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeastern Georgia. The population today is about 43,000 but fifty years ago, it was much smaller. Despite that, seven of Habersham's sons lost their lives in the War in Vietnam. One of them, Hilliard Almond Wilbanks, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest military award for valor in combat. Hilliard was born in the family home on July 26, 1933, the firstborn son of Travis and Ruby Wilbanks. Later, two brothers and a sister were born. Growing up in the small town of Cornelia, he was a good student who always did his best. He delivered newspapers on his bicycle, played the piano at his church and played on the football team.
He was educated in the public schools and graduated from Cornelia High School in 1950. With his parents unable to send him to college, at the age of seventeen, he enlisted in the United States Air Force.
Family history shows Hilliard’s great, great, great grandfather Littleton Meeks Cash fought for the Confederacy during the War Between the States, and other ancestors also fought for freedom down the line. Hilliard’s father, Travis, was too young to serve in WWI and was too old to serve in WWII but many of his uncles paid the sacrifice of leaving home, family and friends to defend this great nation. This greatly influenced his decision to join the Air Force.
One of his buddies from Cornelia High School tells the story of standing with him in front of the Cornelia Community House watching soldiers march toward Atlanta from the paratrooper training base at Camp Toccoa at Currahee, in Toccoa, Georgia. Hilliard wasn’t sure what his future might hold if he stayed in Cornelia so he enlisted in the Air Force. One of his brothers also served in the Air Force and another in the Army.
While stationed at Greenville AFB, Mississippi, Hilliard met the girl of his dreams and soon married Rosemary Arnold at her grandmother’s home in Fayette, Mississippi. In 1961, they were blessed with a son and almost three years later, a daughter. Shortly before leaving for his assignment in Southeast Asia, they found out that twins were on the way and they were born just two weeks after he left the United States, a boy and a girl.
Copyright 2014 Hilliard A Wilbanks Foundation, Inc.