The 42nd Infantry Division and 103 Years of Service

August 26, 2020

The 42nd Infantry Division was formed in August 1917, and it is said it earned its nickname, “the Rainbow Division,” after then Chief of Staff, Col. Douglas MacArthur remarked that the division’s components stretched across America from coast to coast like a rainbow.

On August 14, 2020, the 42nd Infantry Division marks 103 years of exemplary service to the nation, and throughout those 103 years the 42nd has served in World War I, World War II, at Ground Zero during 9/11 and in numerous operations in support of the Global War on Terror.

The Division’s Founding; World War I and World War II

“National Guard units from across the United States were joined together creating the division,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas Spencer, the deputy commanding general for support of the 42nd Infantry Division, as he spoke of the divisions founding.

According to the New York State Department of Military and Naval Affairs website, the 42nd Infantry Division arrived in France in November 1917 and entered the front lines in March 1918, where it remained for more than 170 days participating in six major campaigns and suffering a casualty rate of one-out-of-16 casualties. The 42nd Infantry Division’s ended its service in WWI in May 1919.

According to Spencer, it was because of that casualty rate the division has the patch it has today.

Spencer said the division’s patch was once a full rainbow. However, after the division suffered such a significant number of casualties, he said it was decided that in recognition of that sacrifice, the patch would be transformed into the half rainbow it is today.

Following WWI, the division would find itself fighting in WWII, helping to stop Hitler’s Germany from perpetrating the senseless mass murder of millions of people, including Jews, Roma, the disabled, dissidents and homosexuals.

“One of the most significant events the division was part of during WWII was the liberation of the Dachau,” said Spencer.

According to the New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs, the 42nd entered France in December 1944 and entered Germany in March 1945, wherein April 1945 it, along with the 45th Infantry Division, liberated thousands of people from the infamous Dachau concentration camp. By the end of the war, the division had distinguished itself as the first in its corps to enter Germany, the first to breach the Siegfried line and the first to enter Munich. After the Germans surrendered in May 1945, the 42nd continued to serve as occupation forces in Austria until its inactivation in June 1946.

9/11 and the Global War on Terror

“More recently in history, the division responded to the attack on New York City when the Twin Towers were attacked,” said Spencer. “The 69th under the division was one of the first units to arrive on the scene and start helping during the aftermath of that attack.”

Immediately following the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center September 11, 2001, Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, 1st Battalion, 101st Cavalry Regiment, the 642nd Division Aviation Support Battalion and the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Regiment arrived on scene and provided support to civilian authorities. Thousands of Rainbow Soldiers from the remainder of the division performed security and recovery operations in NYC as part of Joint Task Force 42.

Following the events that took place September 11, 2001, the United States would again go to war, but this time on terror.

In 2004, the division headquarters of the 42nd Infantry Division deployed as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom III, assuming command of Multi-National Division North Central from the 1st Infantry Division and, in so doing becoming the first Army National Guard division headquarters to take command of combat operations since World War II.

While in command of MNDNC, the 42nd directed the operations of a total Army force that included both active duty and Army National Guard formations such as 1st and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams, 3rd Infantry Division, the 56th Brigade Combat Team, Texas Army National Guard, and the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team comprised of Army National Guardsman from Idaho, Oregon, and Montana.

Later in 2008, 2009, and 2010, thousands of Soldiers from subordinate brigades throughout the division would see service in Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Present

“The division is now deployed in support of the global war on terrorism in the Middle East once again,” said Spencer.

According to Spencer, more than 600 Soldiers from the division headquarters assumed control of Task Force Spartan Shield in March of this year. With subordinate formations comprising of nearly 10,000 Soldiers from all three components of the Army, the task force works to reinforce our defense relationships, build partner capacity and, when necessary, execute contingency plans U.S. Army Central area of responsibility.

The Future of the 42nd and the Army National Guard

According to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, the Army National Guard will begin to align existing Army National Guard elements under the ARNG’s eight division headquarters to directly support the National Defense Strategy and increase readiness for large-scale combat operations.

“This alignment will not only help us improve readiness, it will greatly enhance talent management from company to division level,” Hokanson said. “Through coordination between Adjutants General and Division Commanders, our Soldiers will have opportunities for key leader development positions previously hampered by geography.”

When speaking of the alignment’s future effects on the 42nd, Spencer said the realignment is good for the 42nd and can only benefit the Army’s overall readiness.

“When you look at the 18 divisions within the Army, 10 are active-duty divisions and the others are National Guard and Reserve, the Army cannot do its job on a global basis with just the 10 active divisions,” said Spencer. “The need for the reserve component is significant in order to maintain the fight and readiness throughout.”

Spencer went on to say the Reserve Component is an economic force multiplier and that while we have the same standards as the active duty, many Reserve Component Soldiers bring other skills from their civilian jobs that greatly benefit the total Army.

“The future of the guard and the 42nd is very strong, as you look how the Army is structuring the divisions each division is going to look alike regardless if they are active duty or not,” said Spencer. “The 42nd has always had a strong relationship with its down trace Brigades, and all the TAGs in the northeast are in agreement and support of training, and this is what helps make the 42nd strong. The 42nd is well set and trained to be ready when the nation needs it.”