America’s Rainbow Division Remembered in France

by Richard Frisbie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 2, 2008

Gathering under a rainbow flag during this season of Pride events reminds me of what the rainbow represents. For hundreds of years the multicolored bands of the rainbow have been used to show diversity, unity, tolerance and/or solidarity by many organizations and nationalities throughout the world:

  • The indigenous peoples of the Inca Empire were united under rainbow flags known, variously, as Wipahla or Huipala. The tribes that populated vast regions of South America recognized each other by the flags they carried. Today, gay travelers in the area are cautioned that most of the rainbow flags they see do not necessarily indicate gay friendly establishments, but rather, they show the proud descendants of the Inca Empire.

  • Residents in Italy fly a rainbow flag - a PACE, or PEACE flag - as an antiwar statement. It is specifically used to show displeasure with Italian presence in the Iraq war, but can stand for all conflicts.

  • In Austria a version of the rainbow flag is flown as an antinuclear statement.

  • The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) has used several versions of a rainbow flag since 1925 to represent the ideals of universal peace, social justice, solidarity and their diverse multinational membership.

  • In the Netherlands, university flags are each different, but all have various bands of horizontal colors that create a rainbow effect.

  • Even some of the proposals for a new European Union flag are different representations of the rainbow, used to reflect their diversity and unity.

    The Rainbow Division

    It wasn’t until I traveled to the Meuse, Marne and Champagne regions of France recently that I saw a military use of a rainbow. During the American involvement in World War I a plan was created to bring together the top men into one fighting force. Members of the National Guard units from 26 states and the District of Columbia were combined into a cohesive group. The result was the 42nd Infantry Division of the US 7th Army, tagged the Rainbow Division by Douglas MacArthur. While some predicted that a unit made up of soldiers from such diverse regions and disciplines would never succeed, they were proven wrong. The Rainbow Division fought bravely and heroically in some of the bloodiest battles of WWI, including the Battle of Champagne.

    Champagne de Navarin Monument

    The monument of Champagne de Navarin, which pays homage to the French and foreign soldiers that fought in the Champagne region, includes a plaque to the Rainbow Division. The (third) Battle of Champagne was the first time American troops had proven themselves in battle. In fact, the Rainbow Division’s presence was the deciding factor in stopping the German advance to within 40 miles of Paris. They distinguished themselves again in World War II. The Rainbow Division was reactivated for duty and deployed to Europe in 1944, and was one of three US Army units to liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp.

    This Memorial Day

    The months between Memorial Day and November 11th, 2008 are filled with events sponsored by the French government to commemorate the valiant and heroic American soldiers who fought in France, including those brave men of the Rainbow Division. Gays and lesbians who today march unified under a rainbow flag today can also think of the rainbow as a sign of bravery and heroism, and honor the people who came before us.

    For More Information

  • Official French Government Tourist Office
  • Air France
  • The Circuit of Rembrance is a self-guided tour in the footsteps of the Armies of Champagne
  • La Marne Tourism Office

  • Richard Frisbie is a bookseller and publisher in New York State whose food & wine travel articles appear in LGBTQ and regional periodicals, as-well-as at, and He accepts free copies of books for review, restaurant meals to critique, bottles of wine and liquor for tastings, and all-expense-paid trips in exchange for articles about the destinations. He is paid for these articles. Richard promotes informed, authentic information about food, wine and travel, and does not allow the financial arrangements and/or sponsorship to affect his judgment. You can email him at: [email protected]

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