Paul Greenberg

Captain, then Major, then Colonel Darby was not the kind of officer who yelled, "Forward!" but rather "Follow me!" The Colonel didn't order his Rangers into the fight, he led them into it. A general named Patton called him the bravest man he ever knew, riding into the jaws of death on his motorcycle, steel pot or maybe just helmet liner at a jaunty angle, and dishing out sheer, unmitigated Hell to any German foolish enough to get in the way of Darby's Rangers.

. .

"Onward we stagger," their commander would tell his Rangers, "and if the tanks come, may God help the tanks."

. .

Lest we forget, these men made history as Darby's Rangers before they became known as just U.S. Rangers. They were something out of the Wild West. And why not? Never mind what Kansas City may claim; the West begins at Fort Smith. Just as William Orlando Darby did.

His men didn't have Hollywood looks or the most polished manners. Darby's Rangers didn't need either. Their commander needed toughs. And he got them. From every walk and gutter of American life. One of his first Rangers was a bookkeeper for a whorehouse in civilian life, another a lion tamer. They weren't clean-shaven or spit-shined. They were killers. And would need to be. A fellow officer described Darby's Rangers as cutthroats. No doubt they were, and did.

Cutthroats? Their commander took the comment as a compliment. Which may say all you need to know about Darby's Rangers -- and him.

Colonel Darby would be killed April 30, 1945, near Trento, Italy, when a German shell burst overhead -- the same day an Austrian corporal named Hitler would take his own life in a bunker underneath Berlin. An American guerrilla fighter named Darby was a much bigger loss to the world -- the free world. But never mind that. Darby's Rangers were so well prepared, they could do their job without him. Two days later, German forces in Italy formally surrendered.

General Darby -- he was promoted after his death -- was dead, but his spirit went marching, rampaging, on. Darby's Rangers would survive him. To this day. They still keep watch in parts of the world that very much need watching.

Now come Liz and Joe Armstrong of Fort Smith. They're organizing a committee to get a statue of William O. Darby in their town and his. They hope to place it in Cisterna Park. Cisterna, Italy, is the town where the Rangers sustained heavy losses under Colonel Darby.

The Armstrongs had an inspired idea: The statue could depict Colonel Darby on a motorbike, his own warhorse in that conflict.

Maybe whoever designs the exhibit can leave room for a small plaque at the base that says only:

"The bravest man I ever knew."

--George S. Patton.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.