21st Tactical Air Support Squadron 21tass-patch.jpg

By Richard "Dusty" Coyner, Herb 13, 10, and 20, 1967-1968

The 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron was activated on 8 May 1965 but did not become operational until 1 August 1965.  At that time, it was attached to the 6250th Tactical Air Support Group (Provisional) and organized at Pleiku with 30 O-1E/F aircraft.  On 8 November 1965, the 6250th became the 505th Tactical Air Support Group.  The group furnished Command, Administrative, and limited Logistical support for the Squadron. The Squadron was reassigned and relocated to Nha Trang in September 1966 where it was attached to the 14th Air Commando Wing.  On 8 December 1966, the 505th was re-designated the 504th Tactical Air Control Group. The headquarters for the squadron remained at Nha Trang until October 1969 when it was moved to Cam Ranh Bay.  The final move was back to the 377th Air Base Wing at Tan Son Nhut  on 15 Mar 1972.

Under the initial command of Lieutenant Colonel Jack Martin, the mission of the 21st TASS was to provide visual reconnaissance and airborne forward air control support of tactical offensive operations.  The squadron suffered its first combat loss, O-1F #56-6218, even before it became operational, when Captain Francis Geiger and his observer, Lieutenant Hiep (VNAF), were shot down by small arms fire and killed in action on 22 July 1965.  Within the next 30 days, two additional O-1s were lost due to enemy action.

The only Medal of Honor won by a Bird Dog Forward Air Controller in South Vietnam went to Captain Hillard Wilbanks, a member of the 21st TASS. 

Medal of Honor


Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Air Force, 21st. Tactical Air Support Squadron, Nha Trang AFB, RVN.

Place and date: Near Dalat, Republic of Vietnam, 24 February 1967.

Entered service at: Atlanta, Ga.

Born: 26 July 1933, Cornelia, Ga.

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.

The Commanders of the 21 TASS (listed below) all had the call sign "Cagey 01":

Lt. Col. Martin, John A.
15 Aug'65 - 1 Jul'66
Lt. Col. Ransbottom, Richard O.
01 Jul'66 - 2 Jun'67
Lt. Col. Barnnet, Willard 
02 Jun'67 - 1 Mar'68
Lt. Col. Feuerriegel, Karl T. 
01 Mar'68 - 16 Oct'68
Lt. Col. Forster, Joseph M.
16 Oct'68 - 1 Aug'69
Lt. Col. Long, William "Billy" J.
01 Aug'69 - 16 Jun'70
Lt. Col. Mortensen, Eldon D
16 Jun'70 - 1 Feb'71
Lt. Col. Carroll, Dolpha T.
01 Feb'71 - 10 Feb'71
Lt. Col. Ross, Fredric S.
10 Feb'71 - 28 Aug'71
Lt. Col. Hammer, Gerald S.
28 Aug'71 - 1 Oct'71
Lt. Col. Hollingsworth, Irl R. .
01 Oct'71 - 28 Dec'71
Lt. Col. Cary, John F.
28 Dec'71 - 1 May'72
Lt. Col. Hogg, Donald T.
01 May'72 - 24 Sep'72
Lt. Col. Morgan, James D.
24 Sep'72 - 23 Feb'73

The 21 TASS was deactivated on 23 Feb 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.

Unit awards earned while in Viet Nam were: Presidential Unit Citation (PUC), 1 Aug 65 -1 Feb 66; PUC, 2 Feb 66 -28 Feb 67; PUC, 1 Aug 68 to 31 Aug 69; PUC, 1 Jan 70 -31 Dec 70; PUC, 30 Jan 71-31 Dec 71; Air Force Outstanding Unit Award (UAFOUA) with V device for valor, 15 Mar 72-21 Feb 73; RVN Gallantry Cross with Palm, 1 Apr 66 - 28 Jan 73.


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