Nearly 200 people gathered at Cisterna Park on Garrison Avenue for the unveiling of the General William O. Darby monument in late April. The crowd included the young, old, and the disabled, as well as U.S. Rangers and even World War II veterans dressed in crisp, green uniforms.
Born in Fort Smith in 1911, General Darby is remembered as a hero, legend, and top American soldier. He founded the First Ranger Battalion; fought in the battle of Cisterna, Italy, in World War II; and was killed in action in 1945 at the age of 34. He is buried at the Fort Smith National Cemetery and is the only soldier to be promoted to Brigadier General after death. Darby Junior High School, formerly Fort Smith Senior High School, is named after him.
Mrs. J. McKinney, Civics teacher, attended the dedication of the monument.
“My family has been involved with this project from its very inception,” Mrs. McKinney said. “My husband is the principal at Darby Junior High and is the chairman of the Darby Legacy Project. We have watched every step of the way as they have dreamed, worked and fundraised to make it a reality. It was a very emotional week for us all as we watched the statue come across the bridge that Tuesday afternoon and then again on Saturday, April 30, as it was unveiled to the public.”
Principal Watkins, a former Darby Junior High staff member, attended the dedication as “a curious and excited citizen.”
“The city continues to improve as a quality place to live,” Principal Watkins said. “I went to support my peer, Dr. McKinney, who is the Darby principal and lead of the committee that organized the whole thing.”
Mrs. McKinney, who taught at Darby for her first three years as an educator, has a personal connection to the Darby legacy. Not only is her husband the current principal of Darby Junior High, but her mother-in-law and father-in-law both taught there for many years.
“The school itself has a strong connection to the McKinney family, so General Darby has a special place in our hearts,” Mrs. McKinney said. “To know that one of our own hometown boys made such a difference for our nation at such a crucial point in world history is very special. I’m proud that the students of DJH have such a strong role model to look to.”
Principal Watkins also looks to General Darby as not only a hero but a role model for today’s youth.
“Darby is a home-grown hero to Fort Smith and exemplifies the character qualities that we all could/would benefit from becoming,” Principal Watkins said.