FORT DRUM, N.Y. (WWTI) — The history of the Fort Drum rapid deployment facility has a history tied to World War II.
According to Fort Drum Public Affairs, the facility was named after William O. Darby, the officer who led the first Army Rangers during World War II and was the 10th Mountain Division’s assistant commander during the campaign in Italy.
Darby was born in 1911 in Fort Smith, Arkansas and grew up having a goal to attend the U.S. Military Academy after grading from Fort Smith High School in 1929.
His dream came true when he received his nomination letter from Congressman Otic Wingo to join the West Point Class of 1933 where he was an “exemplary cadet from the start.” He was ranked 177 out of 346 in his graduating class, and he was commissioned as a field artillery second lieutenant.
Darby’s first assignment was at Fort Bliss, Texas with the 1st Battalion 82nd Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division. In July 1934, he served as a detachment commander within the division until he left for Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After being promoted to captain, Darby served with the 80th Division at Camp Jackson, South Carolina.
At the beginning of World War IIm Darby was among over 70,000 who worked to test the Army’s readiness for war.
Then in 1924, he served as aide-de-camp to U.S. Army Forces Commander major General Russell Hartle. Darby was later nominated to lead an elite combat unit where he recruited and trained 500 Soldiers in commando operations.
The 1st Ranger Battalion was activated on July 9, 1942. Darby trained two more battalions in Algeria the following year, and the 1st, 3rd and 4th Ranger Battalions became known as “Darby’s Rangers.”
Three years later, Darby replaced Brigadier General Robinson Duff as 10th Mountain Division Assistant Commander. Darby led “Task Force Darby” during the breakout of the 5th Army from the Po River Valley bridgehead to reach Torbole at the head of Lake Garda.
Fort Drum Public Affairs then explained that on April 30, 1945, Darby was meeting with officers in the 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment’s command post in Torbole when they heard German shells exploding nearby.
While going to check on frontline troops, an 88-mm shell hit an adjacent building and shrapnel tore into Darby’s chest. He was killed instantly, along with Sgt. Maj. John Evans, with the 86th Regiment.
Later that day, a vehicle loaded with Soldiers from the 605th Field Artillery Battalion and their howitzers, drowned during an attempt to cross Lake Garda. Only one man survived, and the 25 who died that night. These were the last 10th Mountain Division soldiers to die in combat during the Italian campaign.
Darby was buried in a military cemetery outside of Cisterna, Italy, and he was reinterred at the Fort Smith National Cemetery in 1949. He was posthumously promoted to brigadier general on May 15, 1945.
Fort Drum’s Rapid Deployment Facility, Building 2090 was memorialized in honor of Darby on Oct. 22, 1999. A quote from Darby was included in the facility dedication program.