2017-06-16 / Community

Rainbow Division Memorial restoration approved


The monument to the Rainbow Division at the corner of St. James Street South and Clinton Road, near Commerical Avenue. The monument to the Rainbow Division at the corner of St. James Street South and Clinton Road, near Commerical Avenue. At the Thursday, June 1 Board of Trustees’ meeting a budget transfer placed $10,500 into the village’s Parks Contractual Services account to restore a monument to the US Army’s Rainbow Division, which was headquartered in Garden City during World War I.

Village Administrator Ralph Suozzi provided insight into the village’s plan to work with a contractor and veterans to restore the Rainbow Division monument at the corner of St. James Street South and Clinton Road, near Commercial Avenue.

“(Former Village Historian) Mr. Cyril Smith has been before the Board of Trustees in the past few months talking about the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I, and specifically Camp Mills, headquarters located somewhere in the vicinity of Locust School. I have spoken to the contractor personally about this restoration and it is approximately a two-week project. Thanks to Mr. Smith I also spoke to Paul Fanning, a member of the board of directors for the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation (a 501c3 nonprofit). They sent a note to the Board of Trustees that their organization will contribute 50 percent of the cost of this monument’s restoration. They plan on holding a ceremony here on Saturday, August 12, with details to follow,” Suozzi said.

The Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation newsletter “Reveille” for April 2017 has listed a 1p.m. start time for the August 12 ceremonies. Plans are for veterans from around the country to gather at the memorial in Garden City to celebrate the 100th birthday of the 42nd Division and their mobilization and deployment to serve on the battlefields of France. This spring the foundation is hard at work finalizing an itinerary for a group trip to France, from July 21 to 31, 2018, to visit some of those same battlefields, with the costs and registration process being developed now.

Paul Fanning spoke with The Garden City News on June 13 and said the Garden City memorial is extremely important to U.S. military history. Camp Mills’ here hosted the Rainbow Division, the first all-American division. The 42nd Infantry was developed

Fanning retired from the National Guard in 2011 after serving as the Guard’s New York State public affairs officer for many years. He says initially over centuries the armed American militia evolved into the National Guard. Fanning commented on Douglas MacArthur, who (100 years ago) was a major working at the office of the Secretary of War (War Department). He noted MacArthur’s instrumental role in the formation of the Division. MacArthur was appointed the Rainbow Division’s chief of staff and later promoted to colonel. The foundation’s website, RainbowVets.org, features the following context and more:

“The Rainbow Divisions formation in 1917 is predicated on many of the provisions passed in the National Defense Act of 1916 whereas the expansion of the National Guard gave the President authority for the first time to activate National Guard units for federal duty among other authorities. This gave rise to the idea to form an Army Division out of National Guard units from around the country.”

But MacArthur is credited with the Division’s naming: “The 42nd Division stretches like a Rainbow from one end of America to the other.”

“With the number of states and the numbering of National Guard regiments the next number available was 42. When the base came together it was right there in Garden City and the base had already been created for training before soldiers’ overseas deployment. After the war the veterans really felt that they had accomplished a lot. One of the unique things about the Rainbow Division was specifically it brought together units in the Guard organization’s history from both the North and South going back to the Civil War (just 50 years prior). It helped repair a lot of wounds from the Civil War as Rainbow Division veterans came together in about 1920, representing different states from both North and South,” Fanning explained.

This week he spoke about the classic, 1940 James Cagney film “The Fighting 69TH” and the accurate depiction of some fisticuffs when soldiers first met each other at the New York base. “The 42nd Division was disbanded at the end of World War I. When World War II came about the Army liked the idea and re-created it but it was not a National Guard unit then. It became troops and draftees, but when those veterans finished the war they also wanted to join the Foundation as there were World War I vets who were very active. With a gradual change, the WWI veterans passed the torch to WWII vets,” Fanning said.

MacArthur eventually had Rainbow Division headquarters relocated to Manhattan, and the urban headquarters remained until a move to the state capital area of Troy, New York, just across the Hudson River from Albany, as it aligned with the state capitol being a “more strategic position for the command to lead New York units.”

Fanning says following Operation Desert Storm the Army downsized and recreated divisions nationwide. “At that point the Rainbow Division became the Northeast Division because there were all the state’s divisions prior to that.”

Today the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation is chaired by now-retired Major General Joseph J. Taluto. He led Army ground operations during the Iraq War in 2005, and as Fanning explains prior to that Taluto was the Assistant Division Commander for the 42nd.

“After 9-11, General Taluto was called in to oversee all military support and civil authorities in New York City, and the units came from across the country in the aftermath of the attack. The Rainbow Division was then called up to go into Iraq, where it led three brigades – one regular Army and two of the National Guard units from other states,” Fanning said.

The village’s restoration project cost of power washing and chemically cleaning the monument is $9,625, paid to Sprung Monuments of West Babylon. That amount plus contingency of $875 was appropriated from the 2017-2018 village

Operating Budget on June 1 with a trustees’ vote. The scope of cleaning and restoration includes concrete benches surrounding the Rainbow Memorial, pointing and re-caulking, color and contrasting designs and highlights.

Administrator Suozzi calls the initiative and renovation project a great recognition to be announced and approved by the Board of Trustees the week of Memorial Day. Fanning concurs, saying he read the memo from General Taluto to the Village Board and heard about the Board’s June 1 approval.

“It was a terrific idea to restore the monument. General Taluto’s letter basically told Garden City we (the Foundation) is with you and ‘we are committing the funds, just let us know when to send the check.’ We made a connection as we’ve had the wreath ceremonies there each year. I will come down there and help with the site’s preparations on behalf of General Taluto,” he said.

Fanning notes that there are Rainbow monuments all over America plus one at the liberated (1945) Dachau Concentration Camp in Germany that the Division is forever connected to. The Rainbow Veterans Foundation website details the Garden City memorial and another at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma. “These two memorials commemorate the mobilization and deployment of the 42nd for WWI and WWII and stand in recognition of the sacrifices of those soldiers and families.”

At the Garden City Public Library Board of Trustees’ meeting on Monday June 12, High School Student Lane Meyer spoke about the significance of the Camp Mills photograph exhibit Village Historian Bill Bellmer treated to the community to throughout May, as history was told in visual accounts from 1918 on the GCPL lower level.

Meyer told the trustees that there has been renewed interest in World War I and the Garden City area’s role in American troops’ military preparations and base here.

Fanning says he’s corresponded with Lane Meyer via email all spring, and he’s impressed by the high school student taking up a leading role in municipal affairs. This summer Fanning and colleagues from the Rainbow Veterans Foundation from all across America are excited to be welcomed in Garden City and meet residents.

“The centennial for the Rainbow Division will happen and the ceremony will take place at that Garden City Memorial which was erected in 1940 by the original veterans. We are going to commemorate with both the veteran organization as well as the current serving Rainbow Division command. To its great credit, Garden City has decided it is time to rejuvenate the memorial,” Fanning said.

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Typo correction - The "Lane"

Typo correction - The "Lane" Meyer in this story on the Rainbow Division should be "Layne" Meyer. Very proud to be his grandfather.

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