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Monday is Memorial Day, and this week, hundreds of volunteers are placing an American flag in front of every gravestone in each of Arkansas’s five military cemeteries.
We observe Memorial Day, which began shortly after the end of the Civil War, to honor the memory of those who died in service to the United States. The flags honor everyone who served in one of the five branches of our military – the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marines, and the Navy.
The three national cemeteries are in Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Fayetteville. The state’s Veterans Cemeteries are in North Little Rock and Birdeye.
On Wednesday, just five days before Memorial Day, the commander of all U.S. military special operations asked to visit the Fort Smith National Cemetery. It was General Richard Clarke, who is the 12th commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, and he wanted to visit the grave of General William O. Darby.
General Darby is a native of Fort Smith, and a graduate of Fort Smith Senior High and West Point. In 1942, the commander of the 34th Infantry Division promoted William Darby from captain to major and assigned him to organize an elite commando unit taken from all branches of the military. This was the start of the United States Army Ranger Battalion, sometimes called Darby’s Rangers.
Major Darby fulfilled several assignments in the theater of war and at the Pentagon. He returned to Europe in early 1945, and volunteered to take command of the Tenth Mountain Division. On April 30, 1945, as he outlined strategy for the next day, a German shell exploded in the midst of his meeting and killed him. He was 33.
So on May 25, seventy-seven years and 25 days after General Darby died in World War II, General Clarke visited General Darby’s grave in Fort Smith.
Marshall Murphy, director of the national cemeteries in Fort Smith and Little Rock, stood by as General Clarke and Representative Womack visited the grave.
Mr. Murphy, a veteran who served in the Marines, says that General Darby is a patron saint for Army Rangers. He also noted that General Clarke carries on the tradition of General Darby with a quiet dignity. You would never guess by his words or manner that he commands all U.S. special forces, which perform the most dangerous, sensitive, and secret missions around the world.
This week in Fort Smith, General Clarke did what he always does – he led the way with his visit to honor General Darby. The volunteers who work in the cemeteries to place a flag at each gravestone share in the General’s mission to remember our fallen warriors.