During a recent dining event, World War II veteran Lockered “Bud” Gahs talked about his time as part of the esteemed 42nd Infantry Division, famously known as the “Rainbow Division,” and shared his combat stories with the current generation of Soldiers serving the division’s headquarters.

The exchange, co-hosted by the Rainbow Division Veterans Foundation, was attended by 300 men from the New York Army National Guard, where Gahs connected and, in a way, appeared to “pass on the legacy” of the venerable division to its newest Soldiers.

Bud Gahs is a Maryland native who served as a private in the division’s 222nd Infantry Regiment after getting drafted into service in 1943. He initially served as a truck driver in the anti-tank company of the 222nd Infantry before he was sent to France in 1944, along with the rest of the 42nd Rainbow men, to face the German counteroffensive near Strausburg. The offensive was known as Operation Nordwind, which took place in conjunction with the Battle of the Bulge further north in the Ardennes.

The WWII veteran shared with the audience how his unit defended their post in the town of Schweghausen. On January 25, 1945, he and his unit stayed on high alert for hours to fend off German attacks, with Gahs relying on his trustee M3 submachine gun.

“We lost two Soldiers from our squad that day,” Gahs recalled. “As soon as (the Germans) left, we were grateful they didn’t set the house on fire while we were still hiding out on the second floor.”

The US Army awarded Gahs a Bronze Star for his valiant efforts in defending his post that day. Three months later, he found himself among the men advancing through the infamous Dachau Concentration Camp in Southern Germany that imprisoned over 200,000 consisted of Jews, Romani, Adolf Hitler’s political opponents, homosexual people, and others.

On the Dachau’s liberation date in April 1945, the WWII veteran recounted being temporarily assigned to secure the woods near the camp with expectations to find SS prison guards. Instead, he found a man crawling toward him. They were all ready to shoot the man when it soon dawned on them that he was, in fact, an escaped prisoner.

“Dachau was a surprise to all of us,” Gahs said. “We didn’t know it was that bad.”

He goes on to say how that particular interaction had become the most moving moment of his life, saying, “To this day, the most moving moment of my life was when that prisoner came up to me and kissed my boot. It brought a tear to my eye and still does.”

Gahs Trip Back to Europe

In 2020, Gahs received help from a team of documentary filmmakers, led by artist and researcher Erin Faith Allen, to make his dream pilgrimage back to Europe, including France, Germany, and Austria, which shaped his life. The WWII veteran wanted to look back and remember, as well as preserve, the story of the men of his platoons who fought back then in the name of freedom.

In an update posted on November 20, 2022, Allen said they had successfully completed their mission to take Gahs back to his battlefields. Moreover, the team also surprised the WWII veteran by securing him the prestigious French Legion of Honor medal.

The Formation of the Rainbow Division

When the United States joined the Great War in early April 1917, it faced challenges in building up an Army quickly without pulling out men from established units from any particular state or region. Then-Major Douglas MacArthur proposed to the Militia Bureau the creation of another division that would take in National Guard units from across the country and combine them into one division “like a rainbow” stretching over the entire state.

Eventually, 26 states and the District of Columbia would be tapped for troops to form what would then be dubbed as the 42nd Infantry “Rainbow” Division on August 1917.

The 42nd Infantry became one of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) ‘s first divisions to bolster manpower in France. The Rainbow Division rose to prominence after participating in four major operations, including the Champagne-Marne, the Aisne-Marne, the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

It was then reactivated to join the fight in Southern France and Germany during World War II and notably helped liberate the Dachau Concentration Camp in the spring of 1945 alongside the 45th Infantry and 12th Armored Divisions. Two years later, the division became part of the New York National Guard as the Army’s strategic reserve during the Cold War, as well as responded to state emergencies such as deploying troops to Iraq in the mid-2000s and, most recently, to Kuwait in 2020.