William A. Darden - My Father Remembered

by: 

Kathryn E. Darden
Jun 9, 2011
My father, Col. William Allen Darden
Col. William A. Darden

My father was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on March 29, 1910. William Allen Darden, Jr., called Bill or Allen by friends, grew up on a farm the family called "Tick Hill" in Nashville Tennessee, on Murfreesboro Pike (now Murfreesboro Road). His father, who was no farmer by all accounts, worked at the Nashville Post Office on Broadway, now the Frist Center for the Arts.

He was an adventuresome youth, frequently meeting Billy (W.K., IV) and Jay (James W.) Ransom, the sons of neighboring farmer William King Ransom, III, after morning chores to bicycle from Murfreesboro Road across the county into Kingston Springs where they would fish with an older man. Darden loved hunting as much as fishing and was at home roaming the fields, pastures and waterways across Davidson County.

My father also joined the Ransom boys for games of basketball at the Ransom farm. The youngest child and only girl in the Ransom clan, a blond-haired girl named Mary, would often try to steal the boys' basketball during the games and run off with it. When he was 29 and she was 23, my father and Mary Ransom would wed.

The family did not have much money, so my father grew up in a humble white frame farm house with no running water. The farm had an outhouse, barn and a sulfur well next to the house, and at one time the family owned an old horse. The lack of luxury did not stop the Dardens from entertaining friends and family, and the Darden home on Murfreesboro Pike was the location of several family reunions in the 1920s for the Darden/Harris family.

When his oldest two children reached high-school age, Mr. Darden decided to sell the family farm on Murfreesboro Road and moved his family to Villa Place (in Nashville's Wedgewood area) so the children would be closer to Nashville Central High School which was located on Rains Avenue. Darden graduated from Central High in 1927. Darden's mother was ill and died of cancer two years later. When he was 18, his uncle Charles Franklin Harris helped him get a job as a civil engineer and around the same time, Darden joined the Army Reserves. In 1930 when he was only 20, my father's mother passed away. Her illness had sapped the family's limited financial resources, and there was no money for college.

College Years & Marriage

After working for three years after high school and carefully saving his money, Darden was able to attend Vanderbilt University from 1930 to 1931 where he joined the ROTC program and excelled on the track and debate teams, earning medals in both. When the money ran out, he worked another year as an engineer before transferring to Georgia Tech where he graduated in 1935.

From 1935 to 1942, Darden worked as a civil engineer in Nashville. He married Mary Ransom, the daughter of William King Ransom in 1939. Mary's father was against the marriage, so the couple eloped and was married on January 7.

Mr. Ransom relented after the wedding and sold the young couple an acre of land on the edge of the Ransom farm. Darden designed and built a modest limestone house on the corner of Una-Antioch Pike and Murfreesboro Road where Ransom Place now sits.

World War II

When World War II broke out, my father joined the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel because of his involvement in ROTC. He served in the US Army Corps of Engineers. Among other things, his work with the Corps involved building bridges across rivers, often under heavy enemy fire. For his courageous deeds, Darden won the Legion of Merit Legionnaire Medal, the Bronze Star Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, three Campaign Stars and an Assault Arrowhead, the Presidential Unit Citation the Royal Order of George I (Greece), and the Philippine Liberation Medal for his combat service in the Pacific Theater. He fought in Inchan, Japan and the Philippines, and his old leather photo albums show the horrors he saw firsthand.

Korean War

Darden served as a corps staff officer in the Korean War in 1946. He was the military advisor air engineer on a military mission to Greece from 1948 to 1951 a time my mother would later remember as one of the best times of her life. He completed the Army Command and Staff College in 1952 and the Army's Strategic Intelligence School in 1956. From 1952 to 1955 Darden served as Assistant District Engineer in Tullahoma, TN.

India

Darden also served as Army attach� to the US Embassy in New Delhi, India for several years in the late 1950s through 1960 where he was active in military intelligence. One of his assignments was to look for the rumored tunnel from Pakistan into India. His prowess with a rifle gave him the opportunity to scout the countryside as a big game hunter. His skill as a hunter made him the choice of villagers when a tiger attacked and killed a villager; Darden tracked, shot, and killed the tigress and kept her skin as one of his most prized possessions.

Washington, DC

When Darden returned from India, he was posted to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for a year where he was promoted to full "bird" Colonel. Darden was next transferred to Washington, DC, and he moved his family to their home for the next five years, a picturesque wooded two-acre lot on General Duff Drive on Lake Barcroft in Falls Church, Virginia. Darden worked at the Pentagon in Washington, DC from 1960 to 1963 and at Yards and Docks from 1964 to 1965. Darden wanted to continue his career in the military, but his wife was ready to go home to Nashville to care for her aging parents.

While in Washington DC, he studied for his Masters of Science degree from George Washington University which he completed in 1970 when he was sixty years old.

Nashville

After he retired from the Army in 1965, my father moved our family back home to Nashville, Tennessee where he rejoined the US Corps of Engineers as the Special Assistant to the U.S. Army District Engineer from 1966 to 1971 and the Executive Assistant to the U.S. Army District Engineer from 1972 to 1976, the highest rank a civilian could hold in the Corps. He served as President of the Society of American Value Engineers from 1974 to 1975. He was actively involved in the construction of Percy Priest Dam, Cordell Hull Dam and Lake Barkley.

During his time in India, Darden hired some people to build a stucco house next door to the stone house he had built on the Ransom farm, and a neighbor rented it out for him. For many years that house was a source of extra income for our family. The most notable tenant was wrestler Tojo Yamamoto. When we moved back to Nashville in the summer of 1965, we lived in the old stone house my parents built soon after they wed. There my father raised Silver Leghorn chickens and fancy guppies. Our next-door-neighbor was Yamamoto who would mow his yard wearing the g-string/loin cloth contraption in which he wrestled. His German Shepherd killed a few of my father's beloveded Silver Leghorns, but they worked it out amicably. My father, who had once fought the Japanese, was now content to rent the house next door to a Japanese wrestler. In most ways, he had put the war behind him long ago.

In 1967, my father purchased five acres of land on Old Hickory Blvd. in Brentwood, TN and he spent two years designing his dream house. In 1969, he built a two-story colonial brick home (still standing) using antique brick acquired from an old jail that was torn down about that time. James W. Ransom told me he thought the brick came from the old Williamson County Jail.

Later Years

My mother told me in their last years that my father had a recurring nightmare about an incident that happened in Japan during the War. My father was sent down into tunnels which were often booby trapped or which frequently harbored kamikaze soldiers. In such conditions young Army soldiers were trained to shoot first and ask questions later. In one such tunnel my father encountered a young, armed Japanese soldier. As my father raised his rifle to fire, the enemy soldier dropped his weapon and screamed "Don't shoot!" right as my father pulled the trigger. That incident haunted my father's dreams for the rest of his long life.

Unfortunately, my father did not have a deep faith to sustain him during such moments. When at nineteen he lost his mother, a fanatical member of a narrow-minded denomination told him it was "too bad your mother went to hell." (In an ironic twist of history repeating itself, a member of the same denomination told my brother it was too bad our mother went to hell shortly after her death.) From that point on, Darden turned away from organized religion. His many years abroad gave him a deep respect for other cultures and religions, and his great intellect made Bible stories seem like overly simplistic fairy tales to him. However, he told Mary that when he prayed, he said his own prayers to the Christian God. In the 1970s, he joined St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Franklin, but he soon grew discouraged and stopped attending when his family would not go with him.

Alzheimer's

A few years after he retired from the Corps of Engineers, my father made the long, slow descent into Alzheimer's. As with everything, he fought it bravely and kept most of his dignity long after the disease had robbed him of his great intellect. He stood tall until the end, and he watched incoming airplanes with an eagle eye.

One day when he could no longer speak in sentences, but could still answer "yes" and "no" to simple questions, someone asked him if he wanted to receive Jesus Christ as his savior and spend eternity in heaven. My father said "yes" eagerly and broke into a big smile. Sometimes I think maybe he had to have Alzheimer's to get past his own vast intellect to receive Christ with a truly childlike faith.

After a long health struggle stemming from a broken hip in June 1993, he ultimately succumbed to Alzheimer's, dehydration, a punctured lung, starvation, pneumonia, a staph infection and an overtly hostile doctor who delayed giving my father appropriate care, saying my father was wasting a hospital bed. My father fought on for three months and died at Donelson Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 30, 1993.

Six soldiers from the honor guard carried his casket to the grave site. They held a tautly stretched flag in place over the casket while the minister expressed the legacy left to his children by this courageous soldier. With the eulogy's end, seven soldiers fired three somber shots into the air and the muted, poignant strains of Taps drifted on the late-summer breeze, tribute from an unseen bugler, a reminder of how fleeting and precious is the time we have to honor the living while they are yet with us.


Article © 2007 by Kathryn E. Darden and excerpted from the upcoming book The Ransoms of Ransom Place & the Dardens of Tick Hill: A History of the Ransom and Darden Families of Una, Tennessee.

Sources:

- Engineers on the Twin Rivers, A History of the U.S. Army Engineers, Nashville District 1769-1978 by Leland R. Johnson

- Who's Who in the South and Southwest, 1974-1975, 1975-1976.

- Nashville Banner, Sunday September 4, 1932, Gravure section

- Obit and article in the Nashville Banner, September 2, 1993

- William Michael Darden - keeper of dates

- Charles Edwin Harris, cousin of Wm. A. Darden, Jr.

- James Cantrell, Chairman, Central High Alumni Assoc.


1977 Photo Left to Right: William A. Darden, Jr., Caroline Wilson Ransom, Thomas Alexander Ransom, Mary Ransom Darden, Frances Campbell Ransom, James. W. Ransom


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