FORT SMITH, Ark. (Tribune News Service) — For a Fort Smith couple inspired to give back to their community, years of planning and fundraising to honor a famed war hero are about to pay off.
Retired U.S. Army Ranger Joe Armstrong and wife Liz spearheaded an effort to raise enough money to have built a bronze statue of Fort Smith’s Gen. William O. Darby, founder of the famed “Darby’s Rangers” group that fought in Italy during World War II. An unveiling and installation of the statue at Cisterna Park will coincide with the second annual Steel Horse Rally in Fort Smith on April 30.
“We’re so excited,” Liz Armstrong said. “It’s truly a labor of love for all of us.”
The Armstrongs founded the Darby Legacy Project to honor Darby’s role in the war and as the founder of the modern day U.S. Army Rangers. According to the Fort Smith Museum of History, Darby was born in Fort Smith on Feb. 8, 1911. He graduated from Fort Smith High School, then the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
During WWII, Darby formed the “Darby’s Rangers,” which distinguished themselves in combat from North Africa to Europe.
“It’s a true hero’s story,” Liz Armstrong said. “We wouldn’t have the Rangers without him. He was the first.”
The larger-than-life, 15-foot tall bronze monument planned for Cisterna Park features Darby on a motorcycle, as seen in a photo during the war. The statue is currently at the Crucible Bronze Foundry in Norman, Okla., for the casting process.
“We’re just waiting for the phone call,” Liz Armstrong said.
The Armstrongs were inspired to give back to their community three years ago after taking part in the Fort Smith Citizens Academy.
“We were just pumped after it,” Liz Armstrong said. “With a legal notebook in the middle of our bed, we launched the plan of how we’re going to do this.”
After assembling a team that included two nephews and a niece of Gen. Darby, the group began raising funds on Feb. 8, 2013, Darby’s birthday. Today, the statue’s $165,500 price tag is covered, Armstrong said, but funds are still being raised via brick sales for a base and related work. The $75 pavers can be engraved to honor a person or group for placement at Cisterna Park.
“We are proud to say we have spent very little other than to pay our artist,” Armstrong said. “If you want something and you’re willing to work for it, you can make it happen.”
Darby was killed in action on April 30, 1945, at Torbole, Italy. During his career, he 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.
He is buried at the National Cemetery in Fort Smith.
The Darby statue’s artist and sculptor is Kevin Kresse of Little Rock.
After the first Steel Horse Rally in 2015, the event’s board of directors donated $2,000 to the Darby Legacy Project. One of this year’s pre-rally events scheduled for April 26 is a “Bringing General Darby Home” motorcycle ride from Cisterna Park to Norman.
©2016 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)
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