After the US declared war on the Central Powers on April, 6th, 1917, the War Department faced a herculean task in building and organizing the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) as a military unit suitable for the type and scale of Western Front warfare.

At the time, the regular US Army numbered about 133,000 soldiers plus there were still about 65,000 National Guardsmen on federal duty under the 1916 National Defense Act. The remainder of the Guard numbered about 117,000, some of these not fit for combat service. Nevertheless, in May Congress enacted authorization to federalize the entire Guard, although this wasn’t achieved immediately due to a lack of everything: training space, gear, weapons and men.

All of the state units were, by federal standards, significantly under-strength. However, popular enthusiasm was high and by the time the Guard was completely federalized in the fall its numbers had been increased by some 200,000 men. The concept of serving with your friends and neighbors was still a strong draw.

The pre-war Order of Battle had called for 16 divisions, 3 regular infantry, one cavalry and 12 National Guard. These were 1910 “Maneuver Divisions” of about 11,000 men each (the AEF divisions would require over 28,000). Additionally, there were units assigned to Mexican border security and to the defense of the Philippines, Hawaii and Puerto Rico, most of which wouldn’t be available to the AEF.

The simplest way to populate the designated National Guard divisions was by states. So, for example, the 5th (later the 26th) Division was to include the National Guards of the six New England States – inevitably it was called the “Yankee” Division. The number of volunteers for the regular Army soon made it necessary to re-number the Guard divisions, which became the 26th through 41st Divisions.  The Kansas and Missouri Guards were assigned to the 35th Division.

It was clear after the assignments had been made that there were a considerable number of instances where a division had more troops of certain kinds than it needed. From Major Douglas MacArthur of Secretary of War Newton Baker’s staff (he was essentially Baker’s Press Secretary) came the idea to sweep up most of these superfluous units to create another division, which would be numbered the 42nd. Popular lore says that it was Secy. Baker’s idea to call it “The Rainbow Division”.

As it happened, both the Missouri and the Kansas Guards had an Ammunition Train (a unit that hauled shells to the artillery), so one was over-strength. Accordingly, the Militia Bureau reassigned the Kansas train to the new 42nd Division, where it was designated the 117th Ammunition Train (the Missouri unit was designated the 110Th). Units in the 42nd came from 26 states plus the District of Columbia, but most of the infantry came from New York, Ohio, Alabama and Iowa.

Ammunition Train (not the 117th)

Like most Guard units, the new 117th Ammunition Train needed more men. The unit’s commander, Lt. Col. Frank L. Travis, ran ads in the Kansas City newspapers and in June 1917 swore in an additional 375 men in an outdoor ceremony on the site of the later memorial called The Rosedale Arch.

Meanwhile, back in DC MacArthur, newly promoted to Colonel, had lobbied Secretary Baker to be named the commander of the 42nd, but he lost out to the head of the Militia Bureau himself, the 63 year old Maj. Gen. William Mann, who turned out to physically unfit, but Maj. Gen. Charles Menoher, a veteran artilleryman, nosed out MacArthur again. MacArthur was his Chief of Staff, though, and finally he succeeded Menoher as commanding general in Dec. 1918.

Rainbow Division Uniform

For the public relations value, it was deemed vital that the 42nd be the first National Guard division in France. Resources were diverted to achieve this goal, although the division didn’t receive training appropriate to the conditions it would face. The 42nd was the fourth US division to get to France, and was the first National Guard unit over there. The division participated in all of the major operations of the AEF and suffered 2,058 killed or missing and 12,625 wounded.

On May 12, 1919, after the return of the 117th Ammunition Train, the City of Rosedale, Kansas (which became part of Kansas City, Kansas in 1922) renamed Hudson Rd. to be thereafter Rainbow Blvd., which it remains today, and is well-known because the University of Kansas Medical Center is located there.

On September 7th, 1924 the Rosedale Memorial Arch was dedicated to commemorate the service and sacrifice of local residents, including those in the 42nd Division. Blair has covered the Rosedale Arch in a previous post.

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official from Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.