How a Moment in History Can Create Sisterhoods Across Seas

Hannah Kizer, Senior Photographer/Interviewer

When you cross the Arkansas River into Fort Smith, you may notice a sign that mentions Fort Smith’s sister city, Cisterna, Italy. Many people don’t know why Cisterna is so important to Fort Smith, and why it is even mentioned in the first place. It all has to do with a certain someone…Brigadier General William O. Darby.

    Darby was born on Feb. 8, 1911. He grew up in Fort Smith, and moved on to graduate from the United States Military Academy with a bachelor’s degree in science. He was placed as a second lieutenant in field artillery in 1933.

    Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Darby was given the task of training a new elite commando group. They were known as the Rangers.

    As the Second World War raged on, Italy was being controlled by fascist leader Benito Mussolini. At this point, Italy was allied with Japan and Germany.

    When his Brigadier General (Robinson E. Duff) was injured, Darby immediately volunteered to take command, and he led his division towards Lake Garda in Italy. On April 30, 1945, a German shell exploded near Darby’s location. A piece of shrapnel hit him, and he was dead within minutes. Two days later, German forces retreated from Italy.

    After his death, his was promoted to brigadier general. He was buried in Cisterna, Italy, but he was relocated to the Fort Smith National Cemetery on March, 11, 1949.

    Darby’s courage to take lead inspired many changes to Fort Smith and the city of Cisterna. His alma mater, Darby Junior High, was renamed to honor him, and Cisterna has a high school named in his honor as well, along with many streets. Cisterna even went as far as naming Fort Smith their “sister city.”


   Darby also won many medals, such as the following:


  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • Silver Star
  • Legion of Merit
  • Purple Heart
  • American Defense Service Medal
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Croix de Guerre with Silver Star (France)
  • Order of Kutuzov (Soviet Union)
  • Distinguished Service Order (UK)    

    Brigadier General William O. Darby’s courage and acts of bravery have impacted these two very different towns. His name is sure to be remembered for years to come.