A series of informative panels and stand-alone exhibits tells the story of the 42nd. During its two brief years of existence, its members endured terrible losses, with more than 2,000 killed and more than 12,000 wounded. The display cases contain uniforms, weapons, bugles and other artifacts. Photos show the troops huddled in trenches and marching in blinding snowstorms. The division had been rushed to Europe with little training and even lacked clothing for the winter weather. One case contains a Bible pierced by a bullet hole; it saved the life of the private who carried it in his chest pocket.
MacArthur was a colonel in the 42nd, eventually becoming its commanding general and earning two Purple Hearts and a recommendation for the Medal of Honor. He coined the term “Rainbow Division” to emphasize that its members came from all walks of life and from all over the United States, stretching from coast to coast “like a rainbow.”
Kilmer, most famous for his poem “Trees” (“I think that I shall never see/A poem lovely as a tree”), was just as renowned for his reckless bravery. He was killed in action in 1918 during the Second Battle of the Marne.
A display case of Kilmer artifacts includes his dog tags and copies of “Trees” as well as another poem, “Memorial Day.” Quite moving is a photo of MacArthur standing in front of a sea of white crosses on a visit to Kilmer’s grave at the Oise-Aisne cemetery in September 1931. I was astonished by the prophetic message found in several lines from that latter poem, written in 1914:
The roses blossom white and red
On tombs where weary soldiers lie;
Flags wave above the honored dead
And martial music cleaves the sky.
Above their wreath-strewn graves we kneel,
They kept the faith and fought the fight.
Through flying lead and crimson steel
They plunged for Freedom and the Right.
The visitors center also houses a gift shop and a movie theater, where a film of MacArthur’s life is shown, as well as a gorgeous 1950 Chrysler Crown Imperial that MacArthur used as a staff car while he was supreme commander during the occupation of Japan after World War II.