story and photos by Ruby Dean
Ice and snow on the roads did not deter an estimated 30 guests – including a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient – and history lovers from coming to the birthday celebration of General William O. Darby held at the Fort Smith Museum of History on Saturday (Feb. 8).
Darby Watkins, nephew of the late General Darby, read excerpts from the book he is writing about his famous uncle.
The celebration started at 2 p.m. when guests gathered in the Griffin Theatre by the Darby exhibit where Watkins shared stories about his uncle and answered questions. A short film was watched about the famous founder of Darby’s Rangers.
William O. Darby was born in Fort Smith on Feb. 8, 1911. At an early age he knew he wanted to become a soldier. After graduation from high school, he attended West Point. In 1932, after graduation, Lieutenant Darby began a distinguished army career where he was selected to lead elite Special Forces in World War II called Rangers. General Darby is known for leading his men into action living up to the motto, “Rangers Lead The Way.”
Darby died on April 30, 1945, after he was hit by shrapnel from German artillery.
During question and answer session, 15-year-old Anastasiya Karavan, an exchange student from the Ukraine, asked Watkins, “What personal attributes or characteristic would you want teenagers of today to have that your uncle had?” Darby replied “Humility, love life, and love to laugh.”
When asked why Watkins tells of his uncle, he replied, “My mother used to be the one who did the speaking about him, but when she was no longer able to, she asked me to represent the family. My mother was the last of the Darby family. I try to make sure that I do my uncle justice and that he is remembered appropriately and correctly in history.”
Special guest appearance by SFC Leroy Petry, an Army Ranger with the 75th Ranger Regiment and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, and other Rangers were present at the birthday celebration. Petry also spoke to students at Darby Junior High School in Fort Smith on Friday during the school’s Darby Day celebration.
“I wasn’t the greatest student in school but that didn’t mean I couldn’t turn my life around, make good grades, serve my country and one day find myself at the White House with the President of the United States pinning the military’s highest decoration around my neck, the Medal of Honor,” Petry said.
He admitted that he ran with the wrong crowd and fought a lot. Petry hoped the Darby students left with the message that they can overcome obstacles and lead the way.