rebelling against low expectations

Captain Wilbanks Did Hard Things


( — “Do hard things.” That was the message given to Hilliard A. Wilbanks Middle School sixth-graders Monday morning.

The words came from John H. Wilbanks, son of the late Capt. Hilliard A. Wilbanks, on the 47th anniversary of the captain’s death in Vietnam.

The sixth-grade students filled the Cornelia Community House as special guests for Capt. Hilliard A. Wilbanks Day.

Spellbound, the students heard firsthand accounts of Wilbanks’ heroism from eyewitnesses through means of video.

Wilbanks was a Medal of Honor recipient who was presented with the honor posthumously on Jan. 24, 1968. He died while protecting friendly forces from the Vietcong in his single-engine, unarmed plane.

Citing the book Do Hard Things, John Wilbanks provided examples of George, David and Clara, young people who changed the world.

Those young people were George Washington, David Farragut (the U.S. Navy’s first admiral) and Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross).

Some of the students gasped when they learned that Farragut was given command of his first ship at age 12 – the age of many of the sixth-graders gathered.

Wilbanks told the students those three young people and others did hard things. Similarly, his father did many hard things.

“Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when he joined the Air Force in 1950, right out of high school which he attended here in Cornelia,” his son said. “Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when he qualified for aviation school … in 1955. Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when he left his expectant wife and two children and family and deployed to Vietnam on March 18, 1966 – only two weeks before my twin sister and I were born.

“Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when he buckled the seat harness of his 0-1 Bird Dog for his 488th combat mission, not knowing at the time it would be his last,” John Wilbanks said. “Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when he flew reconnaissance ahead of the 23rd Battalion of Rangers as they approached the tea plantation, not knowing the ambush awaited.

“Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when he spotted the VC forces and marked their position with smoke rockets, and began to direct the fire of three helicopter gunships to cover the retreat of the Rangers,” Wilbanks said.

“Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when one of the helicopter gunships was hit and he ordered the other two to escort it to safety, leaving only himself to support the 23rd Battalion Rangers,” he said.

“Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when he assumed a close air support role, flying low over the treetops firing his M-16 out the window of his unarmored 0-1, drawing the enemy’s attention away from the Rangers below,” his son said.

“Capt. Wilbanks did hard things when on his third and final pass he gave his life,” John Wilbanks said. “To be sure, many did hard things that day. But Capt. Wilbanks’ unselfish acts of courage and heroism were able to minimize friendly losses. Before the battle was over, the Rangers had lost 36 members, but had it not been for Capt. Wilbanks that number would have been many, many more.”

Wilbanks challenged the students to “do hard things” to impact the world around them.

Following the ceremony inside, students and others gathered outside, where the Wilbanks family placed a wreath beside the memorial to Capt. Wilbanks.

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Photo courtesy of The City of Cornelia, Georgia.

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • Hey, Brett,
    I am having problems with loading a picture onto my Diqus account. I select a picture and open it, and then it loads, but just continues to load. The picture never shows up or saves. Do you, by any chance, know what the problem is?
    – Trent

      • Yes. I pressed “Upload a new picture from your computer” and then pressed “Browse”. I selected the picture and then the file name appeared where you have the words “No file chosen”. But no picture showed up. I pressed “Save changes” anyway and the following message appeared:

        “The connection was reset

        The connection to the server was reset while the page was loading.

        The site could be temporarily unavailable or too busy. Try again in a few moments.
        If you are unable to load any pages, check your computer’s network connection.
        If your computer or network is protected by a firewall or proxy, make sure that Firefox is permitted to access the Web.”

        I also tried uploading a picture on this site by going to “Your Profile” and then to “Edit Profile”, and then then “Add photo”. That didn’t seem to work either.

        Please don’t take this as complaining. I am just a little confused.
        – Trent

        • Well, Trent. That would be a problem with, not with our website. You may need to take this up with their customer service. I’m really sorry for the hassle!

          My only suggestions would be to try again, just to make sure it wasn’t a temporary glitch. Also, you may want to make sure you’re not trying to upload too large a file.

          • Okay. Thank you for taking the time to look into this. Maybe it’s just my computer that’s the problem. I’ll keep trying, though. Thanks!

  • Do. Hard. Things. These are but one of the most remarkable words I have ever encountered in my 18 years of existence. If not without my professor in the University of the Philippines who gave me the ‘Do Hard Things” book, I will not be able to realize a lot of things in my life right now. It really amazed me to know how teenagers like me can actually do extraordinary things! The book was actually given to me the night after the election result was released when I ran as a first year representative in the University of the Philippines. Losing was really painful. After all the weeks that I have sacrificed for this whole journey to win a seat in the Student Council, it all boiled down to losing with just 6 votes below the candidate of the other party. I have realized, soon after I have read the book that it is not the end for me. I can still still be a leader even if not elected. I can actually be a leader in my everyday encounters! A leader who is willing to be a servant of everyone. A leader who knows how to listen and understand. A leader who has a genuine heart for public service. I have come to the conclusion that man’s greatest weakness is fear. Fear of being rejected. Fear of being criticized. Fear of (once again) losing. I believe that a young person like me can still go a long way. There are still and i believe a lot of opportunities to come! Do hard things book really gave meaning to my life so much now. I am just inspired to know what God is leading me to become. Hoping for a positive response from you kuya (Filipino term to show respect to an elder brother or male relative)Alex and Brett! 🙂

    • Hey Wayne, thanks so much for leaving a comment and sharing your story. We’re so glad to hear “Do Hard Things” was such an encouragement and motivation for you!

      • Thanks kuya Brett! 🙂 Keep doing everything for God’s glory and honor. God bless you! :))) Mabuhay!

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →