William Orlando Darby was born in Fort Smith on February 8, 1911, to Percy and Nell Darby. Following graduation from Fort Smith High School in 1929, he received an appointment to the United States Military academy at West Point, New York.
After graduation from West Point in 1933, Darby was assigned to the First Battalion, Eighty-second Field Artillery of the First Cavalry at Fort Bliss, Texas. Following Pearl Harbor, Darby was assigned as aide-de-camp to Major General Russell P. Hartle and selected to train an elite combat unit known as Darby's Rangers. The First United States Army Ranger Battalion was activated on July 9, 1942. Darby’s Rangers distinguished themselves in combat in North Africa and Europe.
Colonel William O. Darby was killed in action on April 30, 1945 at Torbole, Italy and posthumously promoted to Brigadier General on May 15, 1945. He was buried in a military cemetery outside of Cisterna, Italy and reinterred at the Fort Smith National Cemetery in 1949. During his career Darby received three Purple Hearts, two Distinguished Service Crosses, the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Russian Order of Kutuzov and the French Croix de Guerre.
Army Rangers of today honor the legacy of General William O. Darby. Numerous thing are named for him including Darby Junior High School in Fort Smith, the Army troopship USNS General William O. Darby, the USAT General William O. Darby, Camp Darby in Italy, many Army training fields, the 1958 Warner Brothers film "Darby's Rangers" and numerous civic clubs and organizations carry his name. Cisterna, Italy and Fort Smith are sister cities in memory of General William O. Darby and his Rangers.
General Lucien K. Truscott, Fifth Army Commander, said of Darby following his death, "Never have I seen a more gallant, heroic officer." General George S. Patton called Darby, "The bravest man I ever knew."
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