William Howard Union Darden

 

I was not successful in locating any living relatives of William Howard Union Darden. Still, I did learn quite a bit about the pilot of Exterminator. He was born June 28, 1918 and graduated from Churchland High School in Portsmouth, Virginia before enrolling at Virginia Military Institute in 1936. At VMI Darden studied civil engineering and field artillery, was an active equestrian, worked as a photography editor for the student newspaper, Cadet, and was known to his best friends as "Dimitri" and "Billy" to his family.

William Darden, circa 1938

William Darden, third from left, March 7, 1940

Darden left VMI to enlist in the Army Air Corps, July 26, 1940, with less than one credit remaining before graduation. At that time Darden was 5'8" and a slightly built 141 pounds.

On Sunday, March 16, 1941 Darden married Barbara Thomas Lathrum in Montgomery, Alabama where Billy was serving as a lieutenant in the United Sates Army Air Corps Reserve. They had one daughter, also named Barbara (March 27, 1943-December 6, 2010), born while Billy was stationed in Mississippi. He spent March through August, 1943 in Texas and Idaho getting flight instruction before being transferred in August to the 461st Bomb Group as the squadron commander of the 766st bomb squadron at Hammer Field in California.

Billy Dardenís father, Blount, was editor for the Portsmouth Star in Portsmouth, Virginia and kept his sonís career, and then his memory, alive in that newspaper until his own death in 1957. In Dardenís file at VMI are newspaper clippings that document the sonís career, death, and eventual recovery.

William Blount (1891-1957) and Lillian LeCompte Darden (circa 1899-?) had three children. Billy, born in 1918, and his older sister Anne Union (1917-?) came from Lillianís previous marriage and were adopted by Blount. In 1926 Winifred (d. December 25, 2011) was born to Blount and Lillian.

At the time of his death, Billy Darden had just separated from his wife though reasons for amiable divorce can be found in 1945 Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals documents. Dardenís mother was listed as the beneficiary of his $10,000 United States Government War Risk insurance policy and Barbara Darden had sued for a share of the proceeds, saying her husband had planned to modify the beneficiary but died before doing so. Barbara Darden won a judgment of $6000 and Lillian Darden had appealed the decision and lost.

In Darden v. Darden the Court called into question the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Darden (the parents) saying it, "was flatly contradicted and impeached by written records." Additionally, "corroborating circumstances" supported evidence that Billy had repeatedly argued with his mother to return the insurance policy so he could reassign the beneficiary. Also, that the parents, "regarded the cost of her sonís education as a cash Ďinvestmentí which he was expected to repay in cash." Finally, in support of Barbara Dardenís case was the fact that Billy had already named her as his sole beneficiary in his will and her mother, not his, as contingent beneficiary. Five of his brother officers testified of Billyís intention to change his insurance policy beneficiary before his death.

All of this stacks up to a marriage that may have been on the rocks but a husband who still felt an obligation to his wife and baby daughter.

Captain William Darden comes across as a gentleman, well-regarded by his peers and subordinates - an opinion supported by his radio operator, George Barulic, and expressed in official paperwork of the 461st Bomb Squadron after Exterminator was lost, December 6, 1943. "The 461st Bombardment Group lost a fine gentleman and an outstanding squadron commander. He was truly an outstanding leader of men. Small but wiry, he was, nevertheless, highly intelligent and extremely resourceful. This little bundle of ceaseless energy was probably the best known, best liked and the most inspiring officer in the 461st Group."

 
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