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42nd Infantry Division marks 103 years of service

By Sgt. Andrew Winchell | 42nd Infantry Division | Aug. 13, 2020

UNDISCLOSED LOCATION – The 42nd Infantry Division was formed in August 1917, supposedly earning its nickname, "the Rainbow Division," after Col. Douglas MacArthur, then chief of staff, said the division's components stretched across America from coast to coast like a rainbow.

On Aug. 14, 2020, the 42nd Infantry Division marks 103 years of exemplary service to the nation. 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.

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 one-out-of-16 casualty rate. The 42nd Infantry Division 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, 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 fought in WWII, helping to end Germany's mass murder of millions of people.

"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 Germany in March 1945. In April 1945, the 42nd and 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 Sept. 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 New York as part of Joint Task Force 42.

Following 9/11, 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 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 Guard members from Idaho, Oregon and Montana.

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.

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