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World War II:
42nd Infantry "Rainbow" Division


World War II: Table of Contents | German Military | D-Day


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The 42nd Infantry ( Rainbow) Division's history as a unit began with America's entry into World War I. Amidst the rush by America to mobilize, individual states competed with each other for the honor to be the first to send their National Guard units to fight in the trenches of Europe.

To check the negative implications of this competition and to minimize the impact the mobilization could have upon any one state, the government decided to create a division composed of hand picked National Guard units from 26 states and the District of Columbia. As a result of this unified effort, the 42nd Infantry Division was born in August and organized in September 1917 at Camp Mills on Long Island, New York Colonel Douglas MacArthur, who had been instrumental in the forming of the Division, said shortly after its completion. "The 42nd Division stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other."

The 42nd Division arrived in France in November 1917 and entered the front line in March 1918, where it remained in almost constant contact with the enemy for 174 days. During it's time in France, the 42nd Division participated in six major campaigns and incurred one-out-of-sixteen casualties suffered by the American Army during the war. The 42nd Division's service officially came to and end in May 1919.

With the onset of America's participation in the Second World War, the 42nd Division was reactivated. At the July 1943 reactivation ceremony, the new division commander, Brigadier General Harry Collins echoed MacArthur's sentiments on the 42nd Division's unique status when he said, "The Rainbow represents the people of our country."

The 42nd landed in France in December 1944 and as part of the 7th Army, advanced through France and entered Germany in March of 1945. It was during the 42nd Division's rapid advance through Germany in April 1945 that they, along with the Guard's 45th Infantry Division, liberated the infamous Dachau concentration camp.

By the end of the war, the 42nd Division had established an enviable record. It was first in its corps to enter Germany, first to penetrate the Seigfried line and first into Munich. Rainbow soldiers had seized over 6,000 square miles of Nazi held territory during their march across Europe. The Division ended the war serving as occupation forces in Austria and was inactivated in June 1946.

The 42nd returned in 1947 as a National Guard division and was recognized as a component of the New York Army National Guard. During the Cold War years, the Division was involved in numerous domestic emergencies while actively training for its wartime mission.

In December 1989, the 42nd Division headquarters was moved from New York City to Troy, New York, where it remains today.

In 1991, hundreds of Rainbow soldiers volunteered and served in the Gulf War. In addition the division was called upon to provide an opposing force battalion at the National Training Center to help prepare units for deployment overseas. The troops preformed so well that they received the prestigious Hanby Trophy, the first National Guard unit ever to do so.

The 42nd Division returned to its roots as a truly diversified division in 1993 when it was consolidated with elements of the 26th and 50th Divisions to form one National Guard division. The Division now has elements in eight different states. Soldiers from New York, Vermont, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Rhode Island, and New Mexico wear the famous Rainbow patch and continue the Division's tradition of service to nation, state, and community.


Sources: War Photos of Mickey Martins

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