IAGenWeb Iowa in the Great War 

The Rainbow Division

during the

Great War



168th Infantry (formerly Iowa's 3rd Infantry)

167th (formerly Alabama's 4th)

165th (formerly New York's 69th);

166th (formerly Ohio's 4th);




The 42nd Infantry (Rainbow) Division's history began with America's entry into World War One.  Amidst the rush by America to mobilize, individual states competed for the honor to be the first to send their National Guard units to fight in the trenches of Europe. To check the negative implications of this competition and to minimize the impact the mobilization would have upon any one state, the War Department created a division composed of hand-picked National Guard units from 26 states and the District of Colombia. As a result of this unified effort, the 42nd Infantry Division was born August 5th, 1917, at Camp Mills on Long Island, New York. Its four infantry regiments were respectively 165th (formerly New York's 69th); 166th (formerly Ohio's 4th); 167th (formerly Alabama's 4th); and 168th (formerly Iowa's 3rd). The field artillery, machine gun, ambulance, hospital, and other units originated in other states from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

The 'Rainbow Division' was the nickname given to the U.S. 42nd Division.  It was so-named because it was comprised - deliberately - from National Guard Units from 26 states and the District of Columbia.  Colonel Douglas MacArthur, the new division's Chief of Staff (and ultimately its commander), remarked that "the 42nd Division stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other".

One of the first American divisions to reach the battlefields of the Western Front in November 1917, the Rainbow Division first saw action fighting alongside the French in February 1918,  where it remained in almost constant contact with the enemy for 174 days. The division played a notable role in six major campaigns, including the Battle of Champagne in July 1918, in addition to fighting at Chateau-Thierry, St. Mihiel, Verdun and the Argonne.  and incurred one out of every sixteen casualties suffered by the American Army during the war. The 42nd Division's WWI service officially came to an end in May of 1919.

With the armistice the Rainbow Division was assigned German occupation duties.  Its service officially came to an end in May 1919.  The division was re-activated with America's participation in the Second World War.