William Orlando Darby

Much has been written about William O. Darby and is available at numerous Web sites, but omitting him for that reason from Fort Smith's Who Who would be negligent. Here are some basic facts.

Bill Darby was born in Fort Smith in February 1911 to Percy and Nellie Darby. Percy, a musician, instructed Bill in music and he became proficient at the clarinet and the saxophone.

Educated in Fort Smith through high school, he went on to graduate from West Point. Many regard him as the founder of the modern Army Rangers, an elite commando division of the Army. Darby served in both theaters of World War II and was known for putting himself in the thick of battle instead of in a behind-the-lines command post.

He was killed in April 1945 by an artillery shell fired by German forces just days before the formal surrender of Germany. At the time of his death, he was assigned ot the Tenth Mountain Division. The following is an account of his death given by a Maj. Gen. David L. Ruffner who witnessed it.

"I was shoulder to shoulder with him when he got hit. We were standing there — a group of nine of us. That area was supposed to be safe. But a shell exploded over us. It was a freak shell, you might say. A one-in-a-million shell that came close in that area by pure accident. We had just taken the village the night before.

"The shell burst 10 feet overhead. I was standing right next to Bill. All nine of us were knocked down. I got up and Bill was lying at my feet.

"I bent down and felt of him. Then I yelled for medical aides. I thought he was unconscious. A man came over and looked at him. He felt inside Bill's jacket. The aide looked up at me and said: 'Do you know this man?' 'Certainly I do,' I said. 'How is he?' 'He's dead.' the aide said slowly. Bill was a wonderful fighter. ... He never knew what hit him. He died instantly."

Gen. George Patton said, "He was the bravest man I knew."

Sources: "Ranger:, The Making of Legend: William O. Darby," Jennifer Kelly, University of Oklahoma, an unpublished paper; and "Arkansas Parents Hear Story of Hero's Death," Pual Mendy, Arkansas Gazette, undated.