The Division’s Motto: Never Forget
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, it needed to quickly build up an army. Political concerns complicated recruiting, and Secretary of War Newton D. Baker authorized a division to be organized from regiments in twenty six different states.
As a result, the United States Army Forty-Second Division was established. Because it was such a widely dispersed collection of men, Douglas MacArthur, its most famous member, was inspired to declare in 1917, “The Forty-Second Infantry Division stretches like a rainbow from one end of America to the other.” As a result, the division adopted the nickname the “Rainbow” Division and created the divisional patch using the colors of the rainbow.
On July 14, 1943, with the United States now in the Second World War, the army reactivated the Rainbow Division at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. On that day, General Harry J. Collins, then commander of the Rainbow Division, recalled MacArthur’s words: “The Rainbow stretches across the land and represents the people of our country. This division cannot fail because America cannot fail.”
During World War II, the Rainbow Division had an authorized combat strength of approximately fourteen thousand men. The number of days the division was “in combat” totaled 106, from January - April 1945.
During their tour of duty in 1945, the Rainbow Division had compiled an impressive record. Over that time it had waged a heroic defense of the Alsace region in France and then advanced four hundred fifty miles from the Hardt Mountains of France, through Germany and to the border of Austria. In its path, it had captured the key German cities of Würzburg, Schweinfurt, Fürth, Nürnberg, and Munich (not to mention all the other towns and villages along the way).
It had been the first unit in its corps to enter Germany, the first to penetrate the Siegfried Line, the first to reach and cross the Danube River, the first into and liberate the concentration camp at Dachau, the first into the cradle of Hitler’s Nazi rallies in Munich, and the first into Hitler‘s residence the “Eagle’s Nest.”
It had captured fifty nine thousand prisoners and always taken its objectives. It ended the war a first-class fighting team, fit to meet any enemy and destroy him.
Sources differ on the amount and type of decorations awarded the Rainbowmen during their deployment in World War II. However, the division as a whole was highly regarded and highly decorated with medals like the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Soldiers Medal, Legion of Merit, and a Medal of Honor.
It was one of the most highly decorated divisions as related to the number of days the division was in combat. However, it didn’t come without a cost, as during those 106 days of combat, the division had a 43 percent casualty rate, which was almost six thousand men.