Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Triple Nickels" Army's First Black Paratroopers on Living Your Best Life with Genma Holmes

Join Living Your Best Life  as we celebrate our military heroes' journeys before and after their service to our country throughout the year. Hear from men and women who are sons and daughters; husbands and wives; fathers and mothers; grandparents; siblings; and loyal friends. Hear members of the Marines, Army, Air Force, and Navy share personal stories and highlights from their military careers. All have roles that made them the "first" in many endeavors throughout their lives and in the military. We will hear about their rarely discussed acts of courage and sacrifice that embody servant leadership that will empower, inspire, and motivate listeners.


On Saturday, February 22, 2014 join us as we hear from surviving members of the 555th Infantry, Triple Nickels, America's first Black Paratroopers. Members of the 555th Infantry were activated 70 years ago this month. The Triple Nickels were also known as the Smoke Jumpers.

Tune in to hear the Triple Nickels share how they were trained in a segregated Army and how their skills were used to help fight World War 2 on the home front. Many of the Triple Nickels also fought in the Korean War. Hear them share their lives before and after being in the the Army. Listen as they share how these courageous men who broke color barriers in the military became the foundation of the 50s and 60s Civil Rights movement which is often not history books.
Genma Holmes with Triple Nickels at Fort Campbell
In the studio to share their HIStory, will be Lawrence Douglas, Fred Otey, Fred Dale, Sidney Brown, and Joe Garrett.

Tune into 760AM in the Middle Tennessee Region, on Tune In, on streaming live online at UStream.TV, and on military bases on Saturdays from 9:00-10:00am CST.

 More About The Triple Nickels, 555th Infantry
(excerpt from Black America Web)


In Camp Mackall, North Carolina the first all-black parachute Infantry platoon was activated on November 25,1944. They would be called the 555th Battalion, a.k.a. “The Triple Nickles.” They were called the Triple Nickles because 17 of 20 soldiers selected from the Buffalo Soldiers 92nd Infantry in Arizona made it through the test platoon at Fort Benning. The unit's name came from the old English spelling and identified with three buffalo nickels joined in a triangle or pyramid.

The Triple Nickles served in more airborne units during both war and peacetime than any other parachute group in history. The Triple Nickles smoke jumped into burning forests of the American northwest, searching for Japanese balloon bombs. In 1945, Private First Class Malvin L. Brown was the first smoke jumper to perish on a fire jump.

In the Georgia winters of 1943 and 1944, soldiers could stare into the sky and see a blanket of white parachutes belonging to the 555th infantry battalion. Among the troopers were former university students and professional athletes. Their unit was entirely black, from commanding officer down to the private level. Their skills would be tested throughout World War II. The 555th were trained to use biological agents that could destroy the burning woods for wartime purposes. The brave men of this infantry found themselves smoke jumping into burning forests of the American northwest searching for Japanese balloon bombs.

After being transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1945, the 555th became attached to the elite 82nd Airborne Division. In 1950, the Parachute Battalion was disbanded. Its former members would later fight in the Korean War. Specifically, one of the battalion's former officers, Harry Sutton, died while leading a rearguard action during the Hungnam Evacuation and was decorated posthumously with the Silver Star.

A new monument has been constructed to honor the Triple Nickles at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center's Memorial Walk of Honor. A ceremony was held on the unit’s 33rd reunion in a crowd of over 200 soldiers.

Photo Credit: US Army Archives and Lt. Otis Touissant
“So many black Soldiers wanted to be paratroopers; there was too many people to simply establish a company, so the 555th quickly became a battalion,” Fowles said. There were not enough officers to handle the rapid growth of the Triple Nickles, so Morris was sent to officer candidate school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Shortly after, the battalion received its first set of orders.
The 555th expected to be assigned somewhere in Europe, supporting their fellow Soldiers in the fight against Hitler, but the Army thought black paratroopers and white paratroopers would fight with one another if they were deployed in the same area. That turned out to be completely untrue, Murchison said, but the misconceptions of the time led the 555th to be loaned out to the United States Forest Service in April of 1945.
The Triple Nickles were assigned as a 300-man smokejumper, or airborne, firefighting component.
“Smoke jumping is a position that is used on the fire line,” Deidra McGee, Forest Service public affairs officer, explained. People jump out of planes and into rugged terrain to establish a fire line. The 555th was assigned to the Forest Service as part of Operation Firefly, which was a joint military-civilian effort to combat wildfire threats from Japanese incendiary bombs.
“Balloons were landing in Canada, all the way down to Mexico, and as far east as Boise, Idaho,” Murchison said, “and they were responsible for some fires on the West Coast and the Forest Service needed fire fighters. There were no road networks like we have now, and there was no way to get people into place in a hurry, so they asked the Army if they could lend them some paratroopers.”
The 555th participated in fire training conducted by the Forest Service at Camp Pendleton, Ore., learning the best ways to put out fires and how to land among the trees — something paratroopers are told to avoid. They were also given demolition training so they could disable any unexploded bombs.
“They started wearing football helmets and made face masks out of chicken wire in order to protect their faces,” Murchison said.  The men were also given 50-foot long ropes to repel down if they became stuck in trees. The government kept Firefly a secret at the time, Fowles explained, because it didn’t want the American people to know the country had been attacked in any way, and it also wanted to keep the enemy from thinking their line of attack had been successful.
The Japanese sent balloon bombs with incendiary or explosive capabilities across the ocean and into the Pacific Northwest from November 1944 through April of 1945. They were paper balloons, designed to drop four incendiaries, one at a time, as they blew eastward. After all the weapons had been dropped, an explosive charge would go off to destroy the balloon, leaving almost no evidence of its presence. More than 9,000 of these balloons were launched, but only 342 were reported in North America, according to the Forest Service.
All in all, the 555th had 36 fire missions, which included 1,200 individual jumps.
“By the time the Triple Nickles got involved with it, the (smokejumping) program was only about five or six years old, so they were some of the earlier smoke jumpers to be involved … and they were some of the first (black) smokejumpers — pioneers — to be involved in the profession,” McGee said.
The operation came to a close in August of 1945 and the battalion returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., where they continued on as regular paratroopers.
- See more at: http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2014/02/jumping-into-history-the-armys-first-african-american-paratroopers/#sthash.oUEymkqZ.OdJuhEMB.dpuf
“So many black Soldiers wanted to be paratroopers; there was too many people to simply establish a company, so the 555th quickly became a battalion,” Fowles said. There were not enough officers to handle the rapid growth of the Triple Nickles, so Morris was sent to officer candidate school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Shortly after, the battalion received its first set of orders.
The 555th expected to be assigned somewhere in Europe, supporting their fellow Soldiers in the fight against Hitler, but the Army thought black paratroopers and white paratroopers would fight with one another if they were deployed in the same area. That turned out to be completely untrue, Murchison said, but the misconceptions of the time led the 555th to be loaned out to the United States Forest Service in April of 1945.
The Triple Nickles were assigned as a 300-man smokejumper, or airborne, firefighting component.
“Smoke jumping is a position that is used on the fire line,” Deidra McGee, Forest Service public affairs officer, explained. People jump out of planes and into rugged terrain to establish a fire line. The 555th was assigned to the Forest Service as part of Operation Firefly, which was a joint military-civilian effort to combat wildfire threats from Japanese incendiary bombs.
“Balloons were landing in Canada, all the way down to Mexico, and as far east as Boise, Idaho,” Murchison said, “and they were responsible for some fires on the West Coast and the Forest Service needed fire fighters. There were no road networks like we have now, and there was no way to get people into place in a hurry, so they asked the Army if they could lend them some paratroopers.”
The 555th participated in fire training conducted by the Forest Service at Camp Pendleton, Ore., learning the best ways to put out fires and how to land among the trees — something paratroopers are told to avoid. They were also given demolition training so they could disable any unexploded bombs.
“They started wearing football helmets and made face masks out of chicken wire in order to protect their faces,” Murchison said.  The men were also given 50-foot long ropes to repel down if they became stuck in trees. The government kept Firefly a secret at the time, Fowles explained, because it didn’t want the American people to know the country had been attacked in any way, and it also wanted to keep the enemy from thinking their line of attack had been successful.
The Japanese sent balloon bombs with incendiary or explosive capabilities across the ocean and into the Pacific Northwest from November 1944 through April of 1945. They were paper balloons, designed to drop four incendiaries, one at a time, as they blew eastward. After all the weapons had been dropped, an explosive charge would go off to destroy the balloon, leaving almost no evidence of its presence. More than 9,000 of these balloons were launched, but only 342 were reported in North America, according to the Forest Service.
All in all, the 555th had 36 fire missions, which included 1,200 individual jumps.
“By the time the Triple Nickles got involved with it, the (smokejumping) program was only about five or six years old, so they were some of the earlier smoke jumpers to be involved … and they were some of the first (black) smokejumpers — pioneers — to be involved in the profession,” McGee said.
The operation came to a close in August of 1945 and the battalion returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., where they continued on as regular paratroopers.
- See more at: http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2014/02/jumping-into-history-the-armys-first-african-american-paratroopers/#sthash.oUEymkqZ.OdJuhEMB.dpuf
“So many black Soldiers wanted to be paratroopers; there was too many people to simply establish a company, so the 555th quickly became a battalion,” Fowles said. There were not enough officers to handle the rapid growth of the Triple Nickles, so Morris was sent to officer candidate school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Shortly after, the battalion received its first set of orders.
The 555th expected to be assigned somewhere in Europe, supporting their fellow Soldiers in the fight against Hitler, but the Army thought black paratroopers and white paratroopers would fight with one another if they were deployed in the same area. That turned out to be completely untrue, Murchison said, but the misconceptions of the time led the 555th to be loaned out to the United States Forest Service in April of 1945.
The Triple Nickles were assigned as a 300-man smokejumper, or airborne, firefighting component.
“Smoke jumping is a position that is used on the fire line,” Deidra McGee, Forest Service public affairs officer, explained. People jump out of planes and into rugged terrain to establish a fire line. The 555th was assigned to the Forest Service as part of Operation Firefly, which was a joint military-civilian effort to combat wildfire threats from Japanese incendiary bombs.
“Balloons were landing in Canada, all the way down to Mexico, and as far east as Boise, Idaho,” Murchison said, “and they were responsible for some fires on the West Coast and the Forest Service needed fire fighters. There were no road networks like we have now, and there was no way to get people into place in a hurry, so they asked the Army if they could lend them some paratroopers.”
The 555th participated in fire training conducted by the Forest Service at Camp Pendleton, Ore., learning the best ways to put out fires and how to land among the trees — something paratroopers are told to avoid. They were also given demolition training so they could disable any unexploded bombs.
“They started wearing football helmets and made face masks out of chicken wire in order to protect their faces,” Murchison said.  The men were also given 50-foot long ropes to repel down if they became stuck in trees. The government kept Firefly a secret at the time, Fowles explained, because it didn’t want the American people to know the country had been attacked in any way, and it also wanted to keep the enemy from thinking their line of attack had been successful.
The Japanese sent balloon bombs with incendiary or explosive capabilities across the ocean and into the Pacific Northwest from November 1944 through April of 1945. They were paper balloons, designed to drop four incendiaries, one at a time, as they blew eastward. After all the weapons had been dropped, an explosive charge would go off to destroy the balloon, leaving almost no evidence of its presence. More than 9,000 of these balloons were launched, but only 342 were reported in North America, according to the Forest Service.
All in all, the 555th had 36 fire missions, which included 1,200 individual jumps.
“By the time the Triple Nickles got involved with it, the (smokejumping) program was only about five or six years old, so they were some of the earlier smoke jumpers to be involved … and they were some of the first (black) smokejumpers — pioneers — to be involved in the profession,” McGee said.
The operation came to a close in August of 1945 and the battalion returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., where they continued on as regular paratroopers.
- See more at: http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2014/02/jumping-into-history-the-armys-first-african-american-paratroopers/#sthash.oUEymkqZ.OdJuhEMB.dpuf
“So many black Soldiers wanted to be paratroopers; there was too many people to simply establish a company, so the 555th quickly became a battalion,” Fowles said. There were not enough officers to handle the rapid growth of the Triple Nickles, so Morris was sent to officer candidate school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Shortly after, the battalion received its first set of orders.
The 555th expected to be assigned somewhere in Europe, supporting their fellow Soldiers in the fight against Hitler, but the Army thought black paratroopers and white paratroopers would fight with one another if they were deployed in the same area. That turned out to be completely untrue, Murchison said, but the misconceptions of the time led the 555th to be loaned out to the United States Forest Service in April of 1945.
The Triple Nickles were assigned as a 300-man smokejumper, or airborne, firefighting component.
“Smoke jumping is a position that is used on the fire line,” Deidra McGee, Forest Service public affairs officer, explained. People jump out of planes and into rugged terrain to establish a fire line. The 555th was assigned to the Forest Service as part of Operation Firefly, which was a joint military-civilian effort to combat wildfire threats from Japanese incendiary bombs.
“Balloons were landing in Canada, all the way down to Mexico, and as far east as Boise, Idaho,” Murchison said, “and they were responsible for some fires on the West Coast and the Forest Service needed fire fighters. There were no road networks like we have now, and there was no way to get people into place in a hurry, so they asked the Army if they could lend them some paratroopers.”
The 555th participated in fire training conducted by the Forest Service at Camp Pendleton, Ore., learning the best ways to put out fires and how to land among the trees — something paratroopers are told to avoid. They were also given demolition training so they could disable any unexploded bombs.
“They started wearing football helmets and made face masks out of chicken wire in order to protect their faces,” Murchison said.  The men were also given 50-foot long ropes to repel down if they became stuck in trees. The government kept Firefly a secret at the time, Fowles explained, because it didn’t want the American people to know the country had been attacked in any way, and it also wanted to keep the enemy from thinking their line of attack had been successful.
The Japanese sent balloon bombs with incendiary or explosive capabilities across the ocean and into the Pacific Northwest from November 1944 through April of 1945. They were paper balloons, designed to drop four incendiaries, one at a time, as they blew eastward. After all the weapons had been dropped, an explosive charge would go off to destroy the balloon, leaving almost no evidence of its presence. More than 9,000 of these balloons were launched, but only 342 were reported in North America, according to the Forest Service.
All in all, the 555th had 36 fire missions, which included 1,200 individual jumps.
“By the time the Triple Nickles got involved with it, the (smokejumping) program was only about five or six years old, so they were some of the earlier smoke jumpers to be involved … and they were some of the first (black) smokejumpers — pioneers — to be involved in the profession,” McGee said.
The operation came to a close in August of 1945 and the battalion returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., where they continued on as regular paratroopers.
- See more at: http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2014/02/jumping-into-history-the-armys-first-african-american-paratroopers/#sthash.oUEymkqZ.OdJuhEMB.dpuf
“So many black Soldiers wanted to be paratroopers; there was too many people to simply establish a company, so the 555th quickly became a battalion,” Fowles said. There were not enough officers to handle the rapid growth of the Triple Nickles, so Morris was sent to officer candidate school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Shortly after, the battalion received its first set of orders.
The 555th expected to be assigned somewhere in Europe, supporting their fellow Soldiers in the fight against Hitler, but the Army thought black paratroopers and white paratroopers would fight with one another if they were deployed in the same area. That turned out to be completely untrue, Murchison said, but the misconceptions of the time led the 555th to be loaned out to the United States Forest Service in April of 1945.
The Triple Nickles were assigned as a 300-man smokejumper, or airborne, firefighting component.
“Smoke jumping is a position that is used on the fire line,” Deidra McGee, Forest Service public affairs officer, explained. People jump out of planes and into rugged terrain to establish a fire line. The 555th was assigned to the Forest Service as part of Operation Firefly, which was a joint military-civilian effort to combat wildfire threats from Japanese incendiary bombs.
“Balloons were landing in Canada, all the way down to Mexico, and as far east as Boise, Idaho,” Murchison said, “and they were responsible for some fires on the West Coast and the Forest Service needed fire fighters. There were no road networks like we have now, and there was no way to get people into place in a hurry, so they asked the Army if they could lend them some paratroopers.”
The 555th participated in fire training conducted by the Forest Service at Camp Pendleton, Ore., learning the best ways to put out fires and how to land among the trees — something paratroopers are told to avoid. They were also given demolition training so they could disable any unexploded bombs.
“They started wearing football helmets and made face masks out of chicken wire in order to protect their faces,” Murchison said.  The men were also given 50-foot long ropes to repel down if they became stuck in trees. The government kept Firefly a secret at the time, Fowles explained, because it didn’t want the American people to know the country had been attacked in any way, and it also wanted to keep the enemy from thinking their line of attack had been successful.
The Japanese sent balloon bombs with incendiary or explosive capabilities across the ocean and into the Pacific Northwest from November 1944 through April of 1945. They were paper balloons, designed to drop four incendiaries, one at a time, as they blew eastward. After all the weapons had been dropped, an explosive charge would go off to destroy the balloon, leaving almost no evidence of its presence. More than 9,000 of these balloons were launched, but only 342 were reported in North America, according to the Forest Service.
All in all, the 555th had 36 fire missions, which included 1,200 individual jumps.
“By the time the Triple Nickles got involved with it, the (smokejumping) program was only about five or six years old, so they were some of the earlier smoke jumpers to be involved … and they were some of the first (black) smokejumpers — pioneers — to be involved in the profession,” McGee said.
The operation came to a close in August of 1945 and the battalion returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., where they continued on as regular paratroopers.
- See more at: http://soldiers.dodlive.mil/2014/02/jumping-into-history-the-armys-first-african-american-paratroopers/#sthash.oUEymkqZ.OdJuhEMB.dpuf

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