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New Habersham school has a real hero as its namesake

POSTED: December 5, 2010 1:00 a.m.

Naming schools is an interesting thing. Some get directional names, like north or south, other get names for communities or streets. But then there is that old standard of naming schools for people.

I generally maintain that they should only name streets, school and buildings for people who are dead.

There are a few exceptions that I thought were worthy. The people of Dawson County named an elementary school for my friend, Dr. Herbert Robinson. He invested a lot of his life into Dawson County schools and is deserving of the honor.

There have been several schools named for Sidney Lanier, the poet and namesake of the lake. One is an elementary school in North Hall.

In Macon, there once was a Sidney Lanier High School, an all-boys school that dubbed its mascot the Poets. While I have a great appreciation for good poetry and prose, there is just something to be said for a football team called the Poets. When it comes to mascots, you should be able to put the word "fighting" in front of a good mascot name.

"The Fighting Poets," just doesn't send fear into the heart of your opponent.

Recently, the Habersham County Board of Education did a masterful job of naming a new middle school. After much consideration, the new middle school will be named for Hilliard Wilbanks.

Capt. Wilbanks is a hero of the Vietnam War. His valor and bravery in the final mission of his life earned him the Medal of Honor.

Wilbanks was flying a Cessna single engine plane called a Bird Dog. He was essentially a scout. His only weapon was a rifle, which he fired out the window.

On a reconnaissance mission, ahead of a South Vietnamese Army battalion, he saw a well-concealed enemy force that outnumbered the Rangers.

The Viet Cong, realizing that Wilbanks' discovery had compromised their position and ability to launch a surprise attack, immediately fired on the small aircraft with all available firepower.

Flying through a hail of withering fire at treetop level, Wilbanks passed directly over the advancing enemy and inflicted many casualties by firing his rifle out of the side window of his aircraft. His daring tactics successfully interrupted the enemy advance, allowing the Rangers to withdraw to safety.

During his final courageous attack to protect the withdrawing forces, Wilbanks was mortally wounded and his bullet-riddled aircraft crashed between the opposing forces.

I first learned of Wilbanks during a visit to the Air Force Memorial on a hill overlooking the Pentagon in Washington. His name is listed there for his Medal of Honor.

I came back and searched for information about him on the Internet. I was touched by his heroism and have written about him in the past. A few weeks ago, his sister, Pat DeWitt, wrote me and told me of the decision to name the school in his honor.

I hope that generations of middle school students who attend the new Wilbanks Middle School will learn about Capt. Hilliard Wilbanks and the real meaning of valor and bravery. Perhaps a future young hero will come from within its ranks.

Harris Blackwood is a columnist for The Times. His column appears every week in Sunday Life and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 



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