42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division to be 100 years old

The renowned 42nd Division will celebrate its 100th anniversary in August 2017.

The division currently includes Army National Guard units from fourteen different states, including Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. About two-thirds of the members are from New Jersey and New York.

The division was created by combining units from 26 states and the District of Columbia to form an organization that would “stretch over the whole country like a rainbow,” an idea attributed to Douglas MacArthur, then a major who was subsequently promoted to colonel as the division chief of staff.

The 42nd Division adopted a shoulder patch and unit crests acknowledging the rainbow nickname.

The original version of the patch symbolized a half arc rainbow and contained thin bands in multiple colors. During the latter part of World War I and post war occupation duty in Germany, Rainbow Division soldiers modified the patch to a quarter arc, removing half the symbol to memorialize the half of the division’s soldiers who became casualties (killed or wounded) during the war.

World War I remains America’s forgotten war, even though more Americans gave their lives during that war than during Korea and Vietnam combined, and even though it profoundly shaped the rest of “the American century.”

The 42nd has a prominent place in US history as the first National Guard Division mobilized and sent to combat overseas.

The Rainbow Divisions formation in 1917 is predicated on many of the provisions passed in the National Defense Act of 1916 where as the expansion of the National Guard gave the President authority for the first time to activate National Guard units for federal duty among other authorities.

This gave rise to the idea to form an Army Division out of National Guard units from around the country.  The idea had many positive aspects:

  • First, our Nation was in need of manpower as they prepared to enter WWI.
  • Two, many of the National Guard units had experience from the boarder wars with Poncho Villa and were thought to be well prepared to take on additional training for combat.
  • Three, bringing units together from 26 different States would help bring support for the war effort; hence the 42nd Division was born!

The National Guard units that made up the 42nd came from across the country and assembled at Camp Mills in what is now Garden City Long Island, which is now home to one of the largest memorials to veterans of WWI.  

When activated for World War II, the division was a unique unit, as it was a reconstitution of the Rainbow Division from World War I. Except for the division headquarters, none of its earlier elements had reformed in the interwar period, so the Army Ground Forces filled its new units with personnel from every state.

On April 29, 1945, liberated some 30,000 inmates at Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp, before marching through Munich and ending its campaign by crossing the Austrian border north of Salzburg.

Since then, the Rainbow Division has been involved in both homeland security and overseas operations.

Go to www.rainbowvets.org and read more about the military unit’s history.

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