William Orlando Darby was born on February 9, 1911. He grew up in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He was a former Boy Scout and was an excellent student. Darby attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He graduated in 1933 as a Second Lieutenant and served in a variety of Field artillery assignments before the war.
At the start of World War II, Darby became a member of the 34th infantry Division. Darby's unit went to Northern Ireland for extensive training to prepare for combat against the Germans. During his training, Darby was impressed with the highly trained and experienced British Commandos. General George Marshall, Chief of Staff, saw the advantages of creating a unit like the British Commandos. After a visit to their training depot, he decided to create the American equivalent, the Rangers. Darby's interest in the British Commandos made him a perfect candidate to form the Army's 1st Ranger Battalion, the initial Ranger unit in the war. Most of the first volunteers for the Rangers came from the 34th Infantry Division. About 50 of his Rangers participated with the British Commandos in the ill-fated Dieppe Raid on August 19, 1942. The next month, the battalion became part of the U.S. Army's 1st Infantry Division. "Darby's Rangers" first saw action, as a unit, in North Africa during Operation Torch. During an
amphibious landing at Arzew in Tunisia, the Rangers took two gun batteries in a night attack with few casualties. The battalion later participated in the invasion of Sicily. His unit also saw extensive action in Italy and participated in several amphibious landings. Darby received the Distinguished Service Cross twice and the Silver Star. He was killed in action on April 30, 1945.