21st Tactical Air Support Squadron
|21st Tactical Air Support Squadron|
Emblem of the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron
|Branch||United States Air Force|
|Role||Forward Air Control|
AFOUA w/V Device
RVGC w/ Palm
Assignments and stations
The 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron (21st TASS) was a U.S. Air Force forward air control squadron. It was organized on 8 May 1965 under the initial command of Lieutenant Colonel Jack Martin, and was assigned to the 2nd Air Division and attached to the 6250th Tactical Air Support Group (Provisional) at Pleiku Air Base, but it did not become operational until 1 August 1965. On 8 November 1965, the squadron was reassigned to the 505th Tactical Control Group, which was headquartered at Tan Son Nhut Airport near Saigon. The 505th provided administrative and logistical support to the 21st. In September 1966 the 21st was relocated to Nha Trang Air Base where it was attached to the 14th Air Commando Wing. On 8 December 1966, the 21st was reassigned the 504th Tactical Air Support Group. The headquarters for the squadron remained at Nha Trang until October 1969 when it was moved to Cam Ranh Bay Air Base. Its final move was back to the 377th Air Base Wing at Tan Son Nhut on 15 March 1972.
The 21 TASS was inactivated on 23 February 1973 at Tan Son Nhut, SVN. Aircraft losses while engaged in combat were 18 O-1E, 14 O-1F, 9 O-1G, 16 O-2A, and 1 OV-10A. Air crew casualties over the course of the war totaled at least 29 KIA, one captured and held POW, and one injured in a flying accident.
The mission of the 21st TASS was to provide visual reconnaissance and airborne forward air control support of tactical offensive operations. The area of operations assigned to the 21st was II Corps, a large and geographically mixed section of Vietnam, and at various times detachments of the squadron operated from a number of different sites within II Corps.
The squadron suffered its first combat loss, O-1F #56-6218, even before it became operational, when Captain Francis Geiger and his VNAF observer, Lieutenant Hiep, were shot down by small arms fire and killed in action on 22 July 1965. Within the next 30 days, two additional O-1’s were lost due to enemy action. Over the course of the war, the 21st played a key role in a number of major engagements, and countless small actions. It was an important factor in the effort to save the Special Forces Camp at Duc Co, from 3 to 17 August 1965 only a few months after its activation. Other major engagements include the lifting of the siege of Plei Me in October 1965 (the largest engagement with the Viet Cong up to that point in the war). These actions occurred throughout the II Corps area. Time and again ground commanders praised the FACs for directing strikes so accurately that the ground forces were saved from being overrun.
Hilliard A. Wilbanks' Medal of Honor
Capt. Hilliard A. Wilbanks, a 21st TASS pilot, was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions near Dalat, RVN on 24 February 1967. By that time he had already flown 487 combat missions, and had earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and 17 Air Medals. He was within two months of returning home to his wife and four small children when he was killed in action.
Capt. Wilbanks' citation reads as follows:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. As a forward air controller Captain Wilbanks was pilot of an unarmed, light aircraft flying visual reconnaissance ahead of a South Vietnam Army Ranger Battalion. His intensive search revealed a well-concealed and numerically superior hostile force poised to ambush the advancing rangers. The Viet Cong, realizing that Capt. Wilbanks' discovery had compromised their position and ability to launch a surprise attack, immediately fired on the small aircraft with all available firepower. The enemy then began advancing against the exposed forward elements of the ranger force, which were pinned down by devastating fire. Captain Wilbanks recognized that close support aircraft could not arrive in time to enable the rangers to withstand the advancing enemy onslaught. With full knowledge of the limitations of his unarmed, unarmored, light reconnaissance aircraft, and the great danger imposed by the enemy's vast firepower, he unhesitatingly assumed a covering, close support role. Flying through a hail of withering fire at treetop level, Captain. Wilbanks passed directly over the advancing enemy and inflicted many casualties by firing his rifle out of the side window of his aircraft. Despite increasingly intense antiaircraft fire, Captain Wilbanks continued to completely disregard his own safety and made repeated low passes over the enemy to divert their fire away from the rangers. His daring tactics successfully interrupted the enemy advance, allowing the rangers to withdraw to safety from their perilous position. During his final courageous attack to protect the withdrawing forces, Captain Wilbanks was mortally wounded and his bullet-riddled aircraft crashed between the opposing forces. Capt. Wilbanks' magnificent action saved numerous friendly personnel from certain injury or death. His unparalleled concern for his fellow man and his extraordinary heroism were in the highest traditions of the military service, and have reflected great credit upon himself and the U.S. Air Force.
Unit awards earned while in Vietnam were: Five Presidential Unit Citations for the periods 1 August 65 -1 February 66; 2 February 66 -28 February 67; 1 August 68 to 31 August 69; 1 January 70 -31 December 70; and 30 January 71-31 December 71; the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with ‘V’ device for valor, 15 March 72-21 February 73; and the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, 1 April 66 - 28 January 73.
- Hobson, Chris (2001). Vietnam Air Losses: United States Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps Fixed-Wing Aircraft Losses in Southeast Asia 1961-1973. Midland Publications. ISBN 1857801156, 9781857801156.