TROY, N.Y. - Twenty-five members of the New York Army National Guard's 42nd Infantry Division, which is headquartered in Troy, headed to France on Monday, July 23 to take part in a week of World War I commemorative activities.
The contingent is part of a U.S. Army-wide effort to mark the Army's efforts during World War I at a number of ceremonies being held in France and Belgium this year.
The Army has units and Soldiers participating in five commemorative events in France leading up to the centennial of the Armistice on November 11, 2018.
Spec. Steven Snyder, a 20-year old member of the division headquarters in Rosendale, N .Y. said he was looking forward to being in the same places division members fought 100 years ago.
"It's one thing to read, listen and learn about all the things they did 100 years ago in France, but it's another thing to go there," he said.
Snyder's enthusiasm for World War I history is one of the reasons he was picked to go on the trip, division leaders said.
World War 1 is considered to have created the modern United States Army, according to Army leaders. The professional American Soldier was born from the WWI American Expeditionary Force (AEF).
WWI saw the formation of the modern Army division, the advent of armored forces, the army air service, the modern Army staff structure and many of the Army's present day military installations.
The 42nd Division Soldiers are the lead element for the commemorations of the Second Battle of the Marne, fought in July of 1918. They will participate in a week of events conducted by the American Battle Monuments Commission and the U.S. Army Centennial.
The contingent is led by Maj. Gen. Steven Ferrari, the 42nd Division Commander from Winslow Township, N.J., and Command Sgt. Maj. Justin Lenz, the division senior enlisted Soldier from North Bellmore, N.Y.
The command team of the division will present the division colors at key commemoration ceremonies in France all next week.
The division Soldiers departed Albany Airport and flew to Sissonne, France.
While Snyder is an enthusiastic student of World War I, other division members said they didn't really know much history but they are ready to learn.
"I'm actually looking forward to learning a bit about our unitary history in France during World War I," Cpl. John Koenig II, an Averill Park, N.Y. resident, said.
Prior to leaving on Monday, the division contingent met at the New York State Armory in Troy for an inspection of the Army Service Uniforms they will be wearing to the commemorative events and to review final travel plans.
The 42nd Division, known as the "Rainbow Division "because it was made up of National Guard Soldiers from 26 states and the District of Columbia during its formation in 1917, will celebrate the division's 100th anniversary of combat actions during the commemoration, with key events that include:
--An Education and Unit Commemoration Day July 25 where Soldiers will visit the historic Meuse-Argonne battlefield, place a memorial wreath at the Douglas MacArthur memorial at Landres-et-St. Georges. MacArthur was the Rainbow Division's first chief of staff and later commanded one of the division's combat brigades.
--A July 26 tour of the 42nd Division actions at the Champagne Marne battlefield, Chateau- Thierry WWI American Monument, the Aisne Marne American Cemetery and Croix Rouge Farm 42nd Division Memorial, and finish the day with a visit to the Lieutenant Quentin Roosevelt Fountain. Roosevelt, the youngest son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, was killed in action near the division's front in July 1918.
--Soldiers will visit the Croix Rouge Farm on July 27 for a battlefield tour over a 10-mile road march of historic sites of the Rainbow Division's first offensive actions from July 25-30, 1918. The assault of the division was part of the first allied attack across a 25-mile front near Soissons and Chateau-Thierry on German positions in over a year. The attack alongside French forces also marked one of the first major offensive roles of the newly formed American Expeditionary Force.
--A centennial commemoration of the Battle of Croix Rouge Farm on July 28 at the Oise-Aisne Cemetery and wreath-laying at the Croix Rouge Farm Rainbow Division Memorial. The attack of the 42nd Division was led by Soldiers of the 167th (Alabama) Infantry and the 168th (Iowa) Infantry. In the final assault, Maj. John W. Carroll, the 1st Battalion commander for the Alabama regiment, shouted: "Save your fire, men! We'll give 'em hell with the bayonet."
--Soldiers and leaders complete the commemorations July 29, with a visit to the Lieutenant Oliver Ames Memorial at Meurcy Farm. Ames was assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 165th (New York) Infantry, the former Irish regiment from New York City known as the "Fighting 69th." He was serving as the Adjutant of the 1st Battalion under the command of Lt. Col. William "Wild Bill" Donovan, and was killed by a sniper on July 29, 1918 during the regiment's attack near Fere-en-Tardenois at the Ourcq River.
Members of the Rainbow Division Memorial Foundation, the division's veterans association, will also be visiting WWI battlefields at this time and will participate in some events. About 50 former commanders, members and veterans of the division will participate in memorial events at the MacArthur memorial and Croix Rouge Farm monuments.
The 42nd was created from National Guard units that were not already attached to state National Guard Divisions mobilizing for WWI. Then-Colonel Douglas MacArthur was the 42nd Division's Chief of Staff and said that this diverse unit would "stretch over the country like a rainbow."
Casualties for the Rainbow Division in that summer operation were 184 officers and 5,469 men and were part of the 100-day offensive that kept pressure on German forces right up until the Armistice of November 11, 1918.
The Chateau-Thierry American Monument commemorates the achievements of the 42nd Division and other U.S. forces that fought in the region during World War I.
The Oise-Aisne American Cemetery is the burial site of 6,102 Soldiers that died in the area during the Second Battle of the Marne and the Oise-Aisne campaign.
The 42nd Division memorial located at the Croix Rouge Farm commemorates the 162 Soldiers from the Alabama and Iowa National Guard who died on the battlefield as well as all the Soldiers of the Rainbow Division who gave their life for France during the war and the important role played by the 42nd Division in liberating the city of Fere-en-Tardenois.
The division united and trained at Camp Mills near Garden City in summer of 1917 and left for France in November. The 42nd fought in battles at Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, and Meuse-Argonne.
The division suffered over 14,000 casualties during the First World War with the unit engaged in combat operations for a total of 264 days.
Although most American generals wanted to keep American units under their control, the 42nd Division initially spent time under command of French forces to gain battle experience.
Today's 42nd Infantry Division remains a diverse unit of Americans like the combat force created for World War I. The Rainbow Division headquarters provides training oversight to National Guard combat forces in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire.