Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

How Press Flack Douglas MacArthur Created the Rainbow Division

MacArthur of the Rainbow
After returning from the Vera Cruz expedition, for which he had been nominated for the Medal of Honor, Douglas MacArthur was assigned to the War Department as a staff officer, where he was promoted to major on 11 December 1915. In June 1916 he was assigned as head of the Bureau of Information at the office of the Secretary of War, Newton D. Baker. MacArthur has since been regarded as the Army's first press officer or, as it's now known, public affairs officer. It was in this position that MacArthur learned many of the "public relations" skills for which he later became known: how to ingratiate himself with reporters, plant stories, justify the decisions of his superiors, and make sure he was frequently photographed.

Following the declaration of war on Germany, President Woodrow Wilson mobilized the National Guard, with 122,000 members on 12 July 1917, but getting those troops into fighting shape would also take time. The New York and Pennsylvania National Guards had division-sized units, and New York's soldiers had just served on the Mexican Border in 1916, so these units could probably be readied to deploy relatively quickly.

But the War Department was concerned that if one of these state divisions went to France first it would look like favoritism and anger other sections of the country.

So Major Douglas MacArthur (later five-star general Douglas MacArthur during World War II and the Korean War) had a good idea—take National Guard units from across the country and combine them into one division. That division could then be deployed to France without slighting any particular state or region.

In describing the division, first to his superiors and then later to newspaper reporters (MacArthur was then also acting as the War Department's press person), MacArthur said the division would stretch across the United States "like a rainbow." So the division, still without a number, quickly became known as the "Rainbow" Division and MacArthur would soon be promoted to colonel and made the division's first chief of staff.

The "Fighting 69th" Regiment Departing Their New York City Armory
for Service with the 42nd "Rainbow" Division

Eventually, 26 states and the District of Columbia would be tapped for troops to comprise the 42nd "Rainbow" Division. The units were told to report to Camp Mills just outside Garden City, Long Island, on 20 August. The Rainbow Division would go on to attain one of the finest fighting records of any division—regular, volunteer, or National Guard—in the American Expeditionary Force. From its activation in August 1917 through the Armistice in November 1918, the 42nd was in combat longer than any other American division and suffered more than 50 percent casualties.

Sources: MacArthur Memorial; U.S. Army website


  1. Understand that when it was proposed that "Colored" National Guard units should be a part of the 42nd (Rainbow) Division, MacArthur said that "black was not a color of the rainbow."

    1. Mr. White, that is the way it was...please no guilt trip.