Lately, people have been very interested in states. Not the weather, or the attractions. Not the sports teams, or crime rates. The COVID-19 numbers.
Having spent most of my adult life overseas, from time to time I really find myself nostalgic for and proud of my home state of Arkansas. And having spent my entire adult life either in a military uniform or working as a government employee, one thing that I came to understand about my tiny little backwoods slice-of-heaven home state is that it has produced some absolute powerhouses when it comes to the military. The list is long, and distinguished.
So, in an effort to not talk about viral virus figures, and spread some positive information, I’m giving you 6 good ol’ Arkansas boys who served their country and made us other Arkansans proud. They all gave a not-so-good Arkansas boy like me something to look up to — service branch notwithstanding, in some cases — as I raised my right hand and took the same oath they did.
I’m going through this in order of appearance. And the list is absolutely nowhere near complete! I encourage you all to take a look at the kinds of heroes from your state, or even hometown.
John Hanks Alexander (6 January 1864 – 26 March 1894) United States Army
Born in Helena, AR, to the first African-American Justice of the Peace in the state of Arkansas. Alexander graduated first in his high-school class, and later attended the United States Military Academy (West Point).
In his short life, Alexander certainly has a number of reasons to be on this list. We’re going to concentrate on the fact that he was the very first African-American in US history to hold a regular command. He was Troop Commander of B Troop, 9th Cavalry (Buffalo Soldiers!), but served in various positions throughout the West.
Douglas MacArthur (26 January 1880 – 5 April 1964) United Staes Army
Born in Little Rock, AR, to a military family. Loved his corncob pipe. This guy’s Wiki page is a book. There are volumes and volumes on his life and accomplishments. I’ll save all that; this ain’t homework.
MacArthur was a FIVE Star General, and served in World War I, World War II, and Korea. He was the commander who led the defeat of Japan, and became, in effect, the foreign ruler of Japan. He was even known by the Japanese as the Gaijin Shogun, or Foreign [Military] Ruler.
Although he’s got some checkered pieces in his command history, he will forever be remembered as the guy who beat Japan. With that corncob pipe, and his pants pulled up to his armpits, he looks every bit of a Norman Rockwell painting.
If you’re interested in the Pacific War (or just super bored), look him up.
Herman Davis (3 January 1888 – 5 January 1923)
Born in Manila, AR. Davis was drafted into the United States Army Infantry in March of 1918. Six months later, Private Davis was a sniper on the Western Front.
Now, let me be clear here. Davis never attended any special marksmanship or sniper training other than that offered to the standard Infantry soldier of the 1918 United States Army. But, as a good Arkansas boy, he didn’t need it. Davis was carving his name into military marksmanship history one shot at a time — via his standard-issue M1903 Springfield… with open sights.
In addition to his other shooting achievements during World War I, Davis managed to neutralize an entire 5-man German machinegun crew as they [attempted to] set up. 1000 yards away.
He attritubed his marksmanship skill to the years he spent hunting as a child. (Something you’ll hear from another sniper on this list.) And despite everyone’s disbelief in his ability to reach out and touch someone across the trenches and no-man’s land of Western Europe, Davis repeatedly single-handedly paved the way for his platoon to advance.
General Black Jack Pershing listed Davis as the 4th greatest hero of World War I. A Private. A Soldier. An Arkansan. And obviously a stud.
William O. Darby (8 February 1911 – 30 April 1945)
Born in Ft. Smith, AR. Darby was friends with my maternal grandfather growing up. So I knew who he was long before I ever joined the Army. And like a few others on this list, he wasn’t with us long. In those short 34 years, though… volumes have been written about who he was, and what he did. And, his legacy.
William Orlando Darby was the [re-]founder of the Army Rangers. His unit in World War II was known as Darby’s Rangers. The history of the Rangers is known, and epic. Go look it up. Here, though, we center on Darby. (Even though, as you’ll see, you can’t really separate the two…)
Darby was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in Operation Torch, during the Allied invasion of North Africa. Reading the citation, it’s hard to see whether it describes Darby, or the Rangers. But it’s easy to see why the Rangers are who they are today.
- Lt. Col. Darby struck with his force with complete surprise at dawn in the rear of a strongly fortified enemy position. Always conspicuously at the head of his troops, he personally led assaults against the enemy line in the face of heavy machine gun and artillery fire, establishing the fury of the Ranger attack by his skillful employment of hand grenades in close quarter fighting.
Darby was a great soldier, and a good Arkansas boy. RLTW.
Carlos Hathcock (20 May 1942 – 22 February 1999) United States Marine Corps
Born in Little Rock, AR, (but raised in Wynne). Hathcock, like Davis up there, picked up hunting and shooting at an early age. He enlisted in the Marine Corps at 17.
If you’re a United States Marine, you know who Hathcock is. If you’re a sniper — anywhere on earth — you know who Hathcock is. If you’re into the Vietnam War, you probably know who Hathcock is. As military members go… Carlos Hathcock is well-known. Legendary, actually.
Aside from the numbers he stacked up rom behind the scope, one of the things I always found amazing was why his nickname was Lông Trắng (“White Feather [Sniper]”)…
John T. Walton (8 October 1946 – 27 June 2005)
Born in Newport, AR, to Sam Walton… the founder of Walmart. In addition to being an heir to the Walmart fortune, John was also the co-founder of the Children’s Scholarship Fund (a tuition assistance program enabling low-income families).
Where Walton really hits this list is his time as a United States Army Special Forces soldier (Green Beret). Walton served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, in both Vietnam and Laos. He was second-in-command of Spike Team Louisiana, in SOG (Studies and Observations Group), and conducted covert special operations. (Walton is referenced in Across the Fence: The Secret War in Vietnam (ISBN 0-9743618-0-1) by my friend and sometimes colleague, John Stryker Meyer.
I think where his story kinda hit me was in the fact that he joined the Army all by himself. His family history and status aside… John joined up, served honorably — and epically — and is absolutely a testament to just how humble (and awesome) us smalltown boys can be.
All of these guys, for one reason or another — or several — were MASSIVE role models. Not just for me, but for thousands of other Arkansans who’ve served. And tens of thousands of others. But to me, in addition to being great troops, they were good Arkansas boys. Take that for whatever it’s worth to you. We all take pride in different stuff. These dudes were… just dudes. Who became giants.