GARDEN CITY, N.Y. - Veterans and current leaders of the 42nd Infantry Division and the New York Army National Guard marked the 100th anniversary of the "Rainbow Division" with an Aug. 12 ceremony here, where the division first organized in 1917.
In an effort to organize and deploy combat units quickly as the United States entered World War 1, the division was formed from assembling the most ready National Guard units of 26 states and the District of Columbia.
Because it would take in units from many states, then-Maj. Douglas MacArthur, the officer who came up with the idea, said it would stretch across the country "like a rainbow."
Before it even acquired the number 42, the division became known as the "Rainbow Division."
Units began arriving at Camp Mills, where Garden City is today, in mid-August and created a tent city in the open meadows of Long Island and all 24,000 men assembled by mid-September for training. The division completed preparations and left for service in France in November, not returning to Camp Mills until 1919.
Just under 3,000 never came home and 13,292 were wounded.
With active service in both world wars, the division has been a part of the New York Army National Guard since 1947.
National Guard units in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont and New Jersey are aligned with the division today, which is headquartered in Troy, New York.
"It's a great day to see our comrades and honor our World War I founders," said retired Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, who commanded the division in Iraq in 2005, and now serves as director of the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation.
The foundation organized the event.
The short ceremony featured remarks from Taluto, the mayor of Garden City, the French deputy counsel general in New York City, a member of the national World War I Centennial Commission and Maj. Gen. Steven Ferrari, the current commander of the 42nd Infantry Division.
The ceremony took place at the monument, erected by Rainbow division veterans in 1940, which marks the site of Camp Mills and commemorates the division's World War I service.
Ferrari was promoted to major general during the ceremony and his predecessor, Maj. Gen. Harry Miller, the deputy director for strategic integration at the Defense Intelligence Agency, was presented the Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of his service as division commander.
Three other former division commanders – retired major generals Steven Wickstrom and Thomas Kinley and retired Brig. Gen. Paul Genereux—attended the event as well.
A number of famous Soldiers served in the 42nd Infantry Division during World War I, including Col. Douglas MacArthur, who came up with the concept of the division; Lt. Col. William "Wild Bill" Donovan who won the Medal of Honor; Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, who wrote the poem "Trees"; and Father Francis Duffy, the fighting Catholic priest, Ferrari noted during his remarks.
But most of the division's Soldiers, then and now, are just good Soldiers who do their duty to the best of their ability, Ferrari said.
One of those World War I Soldiers was Pvt. Martin Treptow, who enlisted in the Iowa National Guard and joined the division as a member of the 168th Infantry Regiment, Ferrari said.
Treptow served as a runner--a Soldier who carried messages in the days before radio--and was killed in July 1918. After his death his diary was found and a passage Treptow wrote summarizes how Rainbow Soldiers have always served, the general said.
"America must win this war," Treptow wrote. "Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrifice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone.''
Treptow is typical of the Soldiers of this division, "who I am so proud to be associated with," Ferrari said.
"It is a privilege and it is an honor to lead the 42nd Division," Ferrari said.
French Deputy Counsel Eric Bayer reminded his listeners that the French people remember what the Soldiers of the 42nd Division and the American Army did during World War I.
"As a Frenchman it is moving to see a marker with French place names – like St. Mihiel, Aisne-Marne, Baccarat and Squain-Champagne—where the division served," Bayer said.
Ryan Hegg, representative of the World War I Centennial Committee, reminded those present that the American Soldiers were known for their energy and enthusiasm. They turned the tide of the war in favor of the Allies.
"They ended the war. They saved lives. No Soldier could ask for more," Hegg said.
About 100 people attended the event, including Bill Vorlick, a New York Army National Guard veteran from Queens.
"It felt great that their service was not forgotten," Vorlick said.
Staff Sgt. Colin Stewart, a current member of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, said he lives nearby, and going by the monument each day reminds him of the division's history.
The monument was renovated earlier this year at a cost of just over $9,000 with the village of Garden City and the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation splitting the cost.
The Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation was established in the 1970s as the division veterans of World War I and II began to age, said Taluto, who also served as adjutant general of New York. They had established a veterans association, but decided there needed to be a way to preserve the division's legacy, he explained.
Money held and raised by the foundation allow for the preservation of memorials to the division and creation of new ones—like markers at Fort Drum and Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst which commemorate the division Soldiers who served in Iraq—scholarships for the children and descendants of division Soldiers, Taluto said.
The goal, he said, is to keep the story of the Rainbow Division alive.