The 42nd "Rainbow" Division


42nd Division





Frenchmen and American 168th Inf., coming over the top with sacks of Grenades, Badonville, France

National Archives Photo 8341, Courtesy of Indiana War Memorial

The 42nd was created in August 1917 and comprised of volunteers from National Guard Units from 26 States and the District of Columbia. The nickname "Rainbow Division" represented the diversity of men grouped into one division as reflected by Chief of Staff Major Douglass Mac Arthur that they "would stretch over the whole country like a rainbow." Many of these units had served in Pershing's Mexican expedition in 1916 and Mac Arthur's vision, evolving from a desperate need for more experienced officers to train the newly drafted army, created the 42nd.

The 42nd was the first US combat division sent to France. They fought at the second battle of the Marne, Luneville Sector, Ourcq River, Chateau-Thierry counter offensive, St. Mihiel, Verdun, Champagne Woevre and Meuse-Argonne, suffering heavy losses of more than 12,000 casualties in 264 days of combat operations out of 457 days of service on the front lines.

Mural of MacArthur w/42nd Div

Postcard of "Mac Arthur in the Trenches" mural by Alton S. Toby depicting the frustrations of the 42nd with a disabled tank overshadowing a muddy, rat infested, shell smashed trench.

42nd PatchRainbow Division Patch, IWM

Letter from Harry A. Ludlow, 150th Field Artillery, 42nd Div., Pvt. Marion County

Although Mail service between American soldiers in the folks back home is being improved as rapidly as possible, it often happens that the soldiers are situated where, for a few weeks, they do not have access to post office and consequently, the mail accumulates. The men all try to impress on the relatives and friends that no news is good news.

H. A. Ludlow, 971 Lexington Avenue has received a letter from his son Harry A. Ludlow Jr., who is a member of the 150th field artillery, the April 3 in which he says:

“It has been a long time since I have written, probably five or six weeks, pretty busy and I haven't been near the United States Post Office, so you see I had no chance to write. All our mail is handed to the United States Post Office and we can’t use the French ones, so if you're not near a United States one you can't write. Since writing last I have received seven of your letters, the last dated March 11th.

“I am feeling fine and am in good spirits and having lots of experiences - and also lots of cooties if you don’t know what a cootie is I will explain that it is a small animal about the size of two pinheads, usually found in the inside of the undershirt, itchy when you get a good mass of cooties working overtime. The only remedy for them is a complete change of underwear. The underwear should be boiled, and after drying the dead cooties should be picked off.

“As I write, I can hear the big guns having a little evenings entertainment. Have seen many fights, saw raids and been under shell fire. Have received copies of The News and it has our locations pretty close. Didn't see how it got by the censors, but surely did I see by the papers I receive from you that you all know we are at the front, and from now on we are going to give the Boche ‘Hell’. I didn't get out to the gun positions very often. Hop on a truck once in awhile when I'm not busy and go out to see what was going on. Had a nice time on one trip, got shelled and everything, but no one was hurt.

“When we were over at our first town, every time the air raid signal would start going all of the Frenchies would head for the bomb proofs and the Americans would dash out into the street to see it. It is a very foolish thing to do, but American curiosity must be satisfied, so out they come. In one town especially, the boys use to have lots of fun watching raids. When the signal is given the boys would rush into their billets and the officers thought they stayed in until the ‘all’s well’ signal is given, but there happen to be a back door in the building so boys would rush in the front door and out the back, and watch the battle.”

"Cootie Machine"

Army Sanitation

All the boys in France had a try at the sterilizing, de-verminatizing machine which rid their clothes of cooties.

Humans have the distinction of having there very own lice. In war time conditions, months in the trenches in close quarters with other unwashed soldiers, the lice flourished. The WWI soldier, with their never ending wry humor, adopted them and named them “cooties”. Serious attempts were made to rid the offensive insects. The Sanitation Corps waged a war against the pests. The soldiers disrobed and their clothes were baked in steam and sulfur to cook the bugs. They would freeze waiting for their clothes but were bug free until they retired to their hay or tree branch mattresses in the trenches. The army had large cement chambers for the soldiers to sit in and steam and scrub themselves clean, the heat required to kill parasites was hard for the soldiers to endure, and they called them “Hells kitchens”.

Cooties can be serious, lice and the ever present rats, transmit disease and it is estimated that over 70% of duty time lost was due to disease. Typhus can be fatal and caused many deaths among the soldiers.

Rice size lice have inflicted armies for thousands of years. In WW 1 they were named after a British slang term for a biting bug. Lice were brought from France, India, England and American and reproduced themselves into a hearty biting menace. The veterans adopted the name Cootie and formed a reunion group, The Military Order of the Cootie, complete with a uniform of a ruffled shirt, red pants and a bug emblem on the vest. The members of the Order of the Cootie would entertain veterans in the hospitals after the war. They continue today, working with VA hospitals and support groups.
42nd making improvised mattresses American soldiers making mattresses to use in their water-filled, mud-soaked trenches. 
Freedom's Triumph, Photo courtesy of Indiana War Memorial  

Frank Roth Huntington, Field Artillery, Rainbow Division, Decatur County

“Was firing a six inch Howitzer gun when it blew up causing my injuries (wounded in the left forearm and thigh at Baccarat, Lorraine Sector) at the same time killing Paul Cross and Bernard Hurst of Shelbyville, Indiana.

This happened at Baccarat, France, June 5, 1918.

William Jesse Stanley, Headquarters Co., 150th Field Artillery, 42nd (Rainbow) Div., Grant County, Indiana

Death Valley, being about the most thrilling and heart rendering experience, I might say. Never ceasing shells, gas and at night we were said to have five or 10 tons of Fritzie’s bombs, no rest for the wicked, not enough room in the dugout for all to sleep and hardly enough nerve to try it elsewhere. One night I got my nerve up and another fellow and I went to sleep in what had been an old German stable. Don't know how long we slept, but woke up with a horrible feeling, a G.I. can had struck just about 4 feet from our shack and was a dud at that. I have seen fellows make speed, but none like I made from this dugout.

"American and French soldiers looking over the town of Chateau-Thierry after the battle. This was the scene of  America's first great victory in the war. The town was stormed and the enemy routed by the troops the Germans had chosen to belittle."  Chateau-Thierry
America's War for Humanity CPI

Henry W. Brockenbrough, 2nd Lieutenant, Field Artillery, Tippecanoe County, Indiana

Entered service in May, 1917. Stationed at Ft. Harrison, Ind., where he received commission in August, 1917.  Sailed for France Sept. 11, 1917, landing Oct. 2, 1917.  Attended Field Artillery School at Saumur for three months. Assigned to the 151st Field Artillery, Battery B, 42 nd (Rainbow) Division in January, 1918. Went to the front in February, 1918, the 15lst F. A., being in active service with the (Rainbow) Division. Saw service on the Lorraine front for 110 days, and later was moved to the Champaign sector and participated in the offensive from July 15,1918, to July 18, of the same year.  Took active part in the Chateau-Thierry offensive and the St. Mihiel drive, and last at the Verdun sector.  Was wounded at Verdun Oct. 14,1918 when

serving with the Infantry, and was removed to Base Hospital No. 32, where he was a patient for three weeks. Was on his way back to join his battery, Nov. 11, 1918, the day of the signing of the armistice. Also served with the Army of Occupation in Germany. Born at Lafayette, Ind., July 6, 1893, son of Mrs. Nell Wallace Brockenbrough. Graduate of Purdue University. Home is Lafayette. Ind.

Erwin Vonnegut

Erwin Vonnegut, 1st Lt, 12th US Aviation Observation Squadron, 150th Field ArtilleryOverseas, Oct. 18th 1917.  Served as an aerial observer.  After the battle and Chateau-Thierry, in which he participated, he was assigned to Headquarters, 1st Army Corps as assistant to the Chief of Air Service.  Served in the Army of Occupation in Germany

2nd cousin of Kurt Vonnegut

Letter from Erwin Vonnugut's family



Indiana War Memorials