GARDEN CITY, N.Y. – New York Army National Guard Soldiers and veterans of the 42nd Infantry Division will commemorate the division and mark Veterans Day with a wreath-laying Nov. 9.
The division was formed in 1917 at Camp Mills, where the Long Island village of Garden City is today.
The Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation and the Rainbow Division Veterans Association, a group of New York City-area residents who served in the division, will honor the founding of the division by placing a wreath at the monument that marks the location of Camp Mills.
Created between World War I and World War II, the memorial commemorates the World War I battles, which the National Guardsmen of the division fought in.
It’s one of nine locations at which wreaths marking the history of the 42nd Infantry Division will be placed over Veterans Day weekend.
The 42nd Division was formed as the Army was eager to get American Soldiers to Europe. Col. Douglas McArthur came up with the idea of taking National Guard units from 26 states and the District of Columbia and organizing them into one division that could deploy quickly. The division would also allow many states – not just one state or region – to have a role.
The 42nd Division, he said, would stretch across the country "like a rainbow," which gave the division its nickname.
The New York National Guard’s 69th Infantry Regiment was New York’s contribution to the division. Because of the area’s proximity to New York harbor and railroad connections, the Army located Camp Mills where Garden City is today as the division’s rallying place.
McArthur became the division’s chief of staff, a brigade commander and a division commander before he led armies in the South Pacific during World War II and then in Korea.
The Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation, which has evolved from the group first created by World War I veterans in 1919, maintains the division’s monuments and creates new ones.
Four Rainbow Division memorials commemorate the unit's birthplace and deployment preparations for war. One is in Garden City, the site of the Camp Mills preparations for World War I, while the other is located at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, marking the site of the 42nd Infantry Division's recreation for WWII.
Wreaths are placed at these locations and five others by 42nd Infantry Division representatives over Veterans Day weekend.
One wreath is placed at the statue of Gen. Douglas McArthur at the United States Military Academy at West Point. A wreath commemorating the 167th Infantry Regiment from Alabama is placed on markers at the Birmingham Bridge and the train station in Montgomery. A wreath commemorating the Georgia National Guard’s 151st Machinegun Battalion is placed in Macon, Georgia, and in Indianapolis in a rural cemetery.
These wreaths are placed each year because remembering the division’s history is a vital part of the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation mission, explained retired New York Army National Guard Lt. Col. Paul Fanning, the foundation’s memorials officer.
"The roots of the division is as the nation’s first all-American division with the elements coming from across the nation," Fanning said. "The diverse location of the memorials reflects that."
The division memorials were created by members of the Rainbow Division Veterans Association in places associated with the unit's formation and training, Fanning said. Memorials for the Iraq War were placed at Fort Drum, N.Y., in 2014 and Fort Dix, N.J., in 2015.
Today the 42nd Infantry Division, with headquarters in Troy, N.Y., has 20,000 associated Soldiers with elements in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Hampshire.
Division Soldiers responded to natural disasters, including the major ice storm of 1998, and to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. The 42nd Infantry Division became the first National Guard division headquarters to go to war since 1952 when Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto took charge of 23,000 Soldiers in North Central Iraq in 2005.
More recently, hundreds of division Soldiers were mobilized in response to Hurricanes Irene in 2011 and Sandy in 2012.
The division headquarters mobilized and deployed approximately 60 Soldiers in 2015 to support security operations at JTF-Gitmo at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The division headquarters is preparing to mobilize 450 Soldiers for deployment to Kuwait and other Middle Eastern operating locations in 2020.