FORT DRUM, N.Y.- The Iraq War veterans of the Army National Guard's historic 42nd Infantry Division, known as "The Rainbow Division" since it deployed to France in World War I, now have a memorial of their own to go with those that mark the division's service in World War I and World War II.
The plaque, located at the New York Army National Guard Readiness Center at Fort Drum's "Old Post" commemorates the 42nd Infantry Division units that mobilized at the post in May 2004 to prepare for deployment to Iraq.
A second monument will be unveiled at Fort Dix in September, to commemorate the 42nd Infantry Division support and aviation elements which mobilized there.
The ceremony was held on the 100th anniversary of the day that an assasins bullet killed the heir to the throne of the Hapsburg Empire, resulting in World War I which led to the birth of the 42nd Infantry Division. The division was formed from National Guard units of 26 states and shipped overseas in 1917 as America entered that war.
"This ceremony is noteworthy because on this very day, June 28, exactly 100 years ago Austrian Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated. This became the tipping point that began WWI and a war effort that would lead to U.S. involvement and the birth of the 42nd Division," said retired Maj. Gen. Joseph Taluto, former commander of the 42nd Infantry Division and Adjutant General of the State of New York during the ceremony.
"There were so many similarities between the mobilization for World War I and Iraq, both bringing together Soldiers from across the country to train for combat," Taluto said.
100 years after that war's first violent trigger, veterans of the Rainbow Division's modern combat history gathered at the site of their mobilization training to commemorate the event with a memorial plaque.
"Just as the World War I veterans would place their memorial at Garden City, on Long Island, and our World War II vets placed theirs at Camp Gruber Oklahoma, this site memorializes the sacrifice of the 42nd Division for Operation Iraq Freedom," Taluto said.
"So here we are today marking yet another significant benchmark of Rainbow Division history," Taluto said.
The ceremony brought together the board of trustees and members of the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation, the association for veterans and their legacies.
The foundation and it's predecessor, the Rainbow Division Veterans Association, has established memorials across the country to ensure that the memory of the Rainbow Division's contributions in World War I and World War II are remembered. The Fort Drum memorial is the first to be dedicated to help remember the service of the division's Iraq War Soldiers.
"We are the keepers of their legacy," Taluto told the group of approximately 50 current Rainbow Division Soldiers, Iraq veterans or WWII veterans and descendants.
The Rainbow Division Memorial Foundation traces its roots to the first veterans' reunion of the 42nd Division back to 1919 when Douglas MacArthur, the former division chief of staff, brigade commander and division commander from WWI was elected first and enduring association chairman.
"There were three WWI guys still here when I first showed up at a Rainbow veteran event," recalled Gerald Eaton, a veteran of the division's 242nd Infantry Regiment who fought in Europe in WWII. "They were glad to pass the torch onto us and we're now passing it on to you," he said to the Iraq veterans at the ceremony.
The 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters, based in Troy, N.Y., mobilized for deployment in May 2004. It conducted predeployment training at Fort Drum along with other division base units through the fall.
The division base included some 3,000 Soldiers from the New York Army National Guard, New Jersey Army National Guard, Massachusetts Army National Guard and select augmentees from the active Army.
Initial units at Fort Drum or Fort Dix in 2004 included New York's 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters, the 42nd Aviation and Engineer Brigade Headquarters, the 642nd Division Aviation Support Battalion, the 642nd Military Intelligence Battalion, 42nd Division Band and 42nd Rear Operations Cell; Massachusetts' 42nd Division Artillery Headquarters, 42nd Military Police Company, Battery E (Target Acquisition), 101st Field Artillery, and 272nd Chemical Company; New Jersey's Division Support Command Headquarters, the 1st Battalion, 150th General Aviation Support Battalion, 50th Main Support Battalion and 250th Signal Battalion; and Rhode Island's 173rd Long Range Surveillance Detachment.
Maj. Gen. Patrick Murphy, the Adjutant General for New York State, officially welcomed the placement of the memorial plaque on behalf of all the New York Army National Guard Soldiers who train at Fort Drum and will view the memorial.
"My connection with the division began in Kuwait when the division rolled into Iraq," Murphy said, recalling his prior service with the 3rd U.S. Army, supporting deploying forces heading into theater. "It was a very professional staff who rolled in. There was nothing but kudos and great compliments for the division."
"The 42nd Division set the stage for the next Guard division to roll in, which happened to be the 34th Infantry Division of which I had spent 17 years serving," he noted.
42nd Division Soldiers provided the command and control, logistics and operational base for four maneuver brigades operating in North Central Iraq. The division base, after conducting predeployment training through the summer of 2004, received its combat brigades and formed Task Force Liberty with the addition of the Tennessee Army National Guard's 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the Idaho Army National Guard's 116th Cavalry Brigade and the 1st and 3rd Brigade Combat Teams of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.
Together, more than 23,000 Soldiers served as Task Force Liberty from February through November 2005.
The 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters helped establish the conditions for the successful Iraqi-led constitutional referendum vote in October 2005.
"It is really hard to believe that it has been 10 years and to realize how much has transpired since," said Maj. Gen. Harry Miller, the current 42nd Infantry Division Commander. "I am fortunate to still have so many Iraq veterans serving in the headquarters, and it was their experience that helped the division excel at our recent Warfighter," he said.
Today, the division is aligned for training with some 14,000 Soldiers assigned to brigade elements in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Hampshire. With support from the division headquarters and staff, nearly every associated element of the modern 42nd Infantry Division deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan in the past decade.
"As I travel around the senior circles of the Army and Army National Guard, people know the 42nd Division and how good we are," Miller said.
Two other such Rainbow Division memorials exist in Garden City, N.Y. to commemorate the unit's birthplace and deployment preparations for World War I. The other is located at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, marking the site of the 42nd Infantry Division's mobilization for WWII. These memorials recognize the sacrifices of Rainbow Division Soldiers and their families from generation to generation.
"To the 42nd Division and Task Force Liberty members, job well done," Taluto told the Iraq War veterans. "Your performance is validated by your unit meritorious service award."
"This memorial is a testament to your courage, sacrifice and commitment to serve," he said. "It is your memorial now and forever."