A “Speakers You Need” Salute to the Triple Nickles
Speakers you Need (SyN) salutes the brave men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. The Triple Nickles, as they are known, were a highly-trained company of African American paratroopers who paved the way for integration in the military and proved – in the face of widespread racism and skepticism – that African Americans could and would excel at jobs requiring intricate training if given the chance, even if they had to train themselves. Which they did.
More than 2.5 million African Americans registered for the draft During World War II, filling support jobs, such as cooking, cleaning, managing laundry, and building roads. Black officers could only lead black troops; they faced segregated housing, meals, and recreation. Many held better civilian jobs than they did within the military.
It was in this Army that Walter Morris, a black first sergeant and clerk at Ft. Benning, GA, watched white men train at the new parachute school there, facilities and training not availed to him or his black comrades. He noted the white soldiers finished their training at 4 p.m., the same time support staff completed their assignments. He gathered a group of soldiers, who began a daily regimen of the same drills he had observed white paratroopers in training practice. The group used a five-foot tower to build jumping and landing skills and football pads and helmets as protective gear. After seeing the men practice, the base’s commanding general summoned Morris to headquarters: they would be given the chance to take the official paratrooper test.
On February 18, 1944, seventeen soldiers received their wings and became America’s first black paratroopers. Soon after, the men of the 555th were sent west as “smoke jumpers” on a secret mission, codename Operation Firefly, into stretches of the Pacific Northwest. There, wearing modified football helmets, they steered their parachutes into smoky treetops, employing a novel firefighting method for remote forest fires sparked by Japanese bombs carried by helium balloons over the Pacific Ocean. To prepare for their mission, the Triple Nickles were trained in forest firefighting techniques as well as bomb detonation, and a new method of jumping. While paratroopers jump into the clear, smoke jumpers aim for trees and then rappel to land near a blaze. It is believed that the Japanese launched 9,000 of the wind-borne devices designed to wreak havoc on cities and woodlands of the American West, and that more than 1,000 landed over American soil.
In October 1945, Operation Firefly concluded. The 555th spent the next two years at Fort Bragg, and in December of 1947, the Triple Nickles were transferred into the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, becoming the 3rd Battalion of the 82nd Airborne, the first military unit to achieve full integration. Seven months later, President Harry S Truman signed Executive Order 9981, establishing equality of treatment and opportunity in the armed forces of people of all races, religions, or national origins, something the Triple Nickles had worked to achieve by taking the initiative to train themselves.
“We didn’t win any wars, but we did contribute,” said Morris in an interview with the Associated Press, referring to the non-combat status of the 555th. “What we proved was that the color of a man has nothing to do with his ability.”
Speakers you Need (SyN) applauds the Triple Nickles’ commitment to training and stands ready to help you prepare for your current or next mission. SyN is a professional training company headquartered in Kansas City with over 100 subject matter experts positioned throughout North America. For more information about SyN’s professional development and training programs, contact Rocky White at 913.815.1494 or check out: http://speakersyouneed.com/
*“Nickle” is derived from old English but may also be a misspelling that stuck.
Information for this article was gathered from: Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, Tanya Lee Stone