Tag Archives: WWII

Equal in All Ways; Fighting the Firefly

“There was a terrible explosion. Twigs flew through the air, pine needles began to fall, dead branches and dust, and dead logs went up” said Richard Barnhouse to Oregon’s Mail Tribune, describing the detonation of a Japanese bomb.

However, Barnhouse not talking about combat in the Pacific Theater; World War II Japan was attacking the United States.

The Japanese fire balloon campaign, known as Fu-Go, involved hydrogen-filled balloons carried across the ocean by the Jet Stream to the US’ West Coast, where they would drop their payload of explosives.

This screen grab from a Navy training film features an elaborate balloon bomb.

The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment answered the nation’s call to fight back. Never reaching the necessary manning to fight in the European Theater, the 555th PIR received orders on May 5th, 1945 to report to Oregon and be assigned to the 9th Services Command.

Their primary mission; recovery and destruction of Japanese balloon-bombs; firefighting was their secondary mission according to a report published by the U.S. Army War College.

Arriving at Pendleton Field, Oregon a week later, the men of the 555th PIR conducted more training in land navigation, medical aid and physical endurance while waiting for their equipment to arrive.

A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below.

Even there, the all African American unit faced discrimination much like that of the deep South when training at Fort Benning. The paratroopers found it difficult to buy a drink or a meal in the town of Pendleton and the commander of the base did not want them mixing with the base’s population. Undaunted, the paratroopers continued taking pride in their skills and staged demonstration jumps for local civilians.

By that time, however, the Fu-Go campaign was tapering off, the Japanese reportedly having used it as an effort to improve morale among factory workers, telling them the balloons were causing havoc in Los Angeles or Seattle.

They soon received training by the U.S. Forest Service to parachute into heavily wooded areas and fight fires caused by the Fu-Go balloons, careless campers and lightning. Specially equipped and trained, the “Triple Nickle” paratroopers became the forefathers of modern-day Smokejumpers.

Based at Pendleton Field, Oregon with a detachment at Chico, the 555th PIR responded to 36 fire calls, making more than 1,200 individual jumps.

More than thirty paratroopers sustained injuries ranging from cuts and bruises to broken legs and even crushed chests. Tragically, Malvin L. Brown, a medic assigned to Headquarters Company, died August 6, 1945 after falling while trying to descend from a tree.

While at Camp Pendleton, the 555th PIR would establish another historic landmark. On July 25, 1945, fifty-four men conducted a full combat-equipment jump with live ammunition. After their initial assault on their objective, they marked it and called in Naval aircraft piloted by trainees to bomb and strafe it. This marked the first time African-American paratroopers to conduct a joint operation with the Navy.

Even with the accomplishment of these tremendous feats, their most important footsteps were yet to come.

P6 Sends – 75th Anniversary of our First Star of Valor

Panther Paratroopers, Family and Friends

Today, we honor the 75th Anniversary of the 505th PIR and 307th AEB’s first Star of Valor – Operation Husky. On 9 July 1943, at 1930 hours, the first of 226 planes carrying the paratroopers departed their airfields in Tunisa enroute to Sicily. There, they would conduct the first regimental-sized combat parachute jump in U.S. Army History.

Due to many factors, most of the paratroopers missed their assigned drop zones and the regiment was widely scattered. Throughout the night and well into July 10th, 505th PIR and 307th AEB paratroopers wreaked havoc on their enemies while fighting towards “Objective Y;” a series of 16 concrete pillboxes. Of the 3407 paratroopers of the 505th PIR who jumped, 424 were wounded or killed by the end of Operation Husky.

On the ground, the paratroopers fought with tenacity and aggressiveness. Their training in small unit tactics, eagerness to close with the enemy and universal understanding of the mission resulted in success.

Of Operation Husky, Gen. Gavin wrote “Here, in Sicily, he [Paratroopers] proved the hard way that vertical envelopment at night was feasible and almost impossible to stop, that the American trooper has the mental and physical courage to try anything, asking and expecting no odds.”

Take time today to learn more about Operation Husky. The heritage of the American Paratrooper, one you are building today, rests on the foundation laid by these brave Troopers.

Panther 6

 

“Rock, You Draw a Hell Of a Crowd”

Paratroopers, veterans and members of the Fort Bragg and Fayetteville community gathered April 20th to honor a living airborne legend.

Retired Command Sergeant Major Kenneth “Rock” Merritt, a distinguished alumni of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division was honored with a paver stone at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville, North Carolina.

A paver stone dedicated to Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth “Rock” Merritt is unveiled at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Merritt, a World War II 82nd Airborne Veteran of Operations Overlord and Market Garden, served over thirty years in the Army and even twice as the XVIII Airborne Corps Command Sergeant Major.

“Rock, you draw a hell of a crowd,” said Mr. Tommy Bolton, the Civilian Aid to the Secretary of the Army for North Carolina during his opening remarks. “This is indeed special. Not just for Command Sergeant Major Merritt and his family, but for all he represents.’

‘That means that place in history, when the world was at war, and the only thing that stood between freedom and the Nazis were guys like Rock who stepped forward, took the oath, withstood the training and dedicated themselves to a higher cause and the meaning of America,” continued Bolton.”

Merritt was a member of the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment when he participated in the combat jumps into Normandy during Operation Overlord and into the Netherlands during Operation Market Garden. He was personally awarded the Silver Star by General Matthew Ridgway for knocking out a Nazi machine gun nest during Operation Overlord.

“Command Sergeant Major Merritt is an exceptional example of the Greatest Generation and is still serving our Army today,” said Retired Command Sgt. Maj. Steve England. “Rock is a role model and mentor to the officers, noncommissioned officers and young paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 18th Airborne Corps and, of course, his beloved 508th.”

Then-Corporal Kenneth “Rock” Merritt poses for a photo.

In October of 1942, Merritt saw a colorful poster while waiting to talk to a Marine recruiting sergeant. The poster depicted a paratrooper descending to the ground with the challenge “Are You Man Enough to Fill These Boots?” emblazoned upon it. That was the beginning of his 35-year long career in the Army, 31 years of which were spent on jump status. Merritt would serve twice as the Command Sergeant Major of the XVIII ABC Corps and is an inaugural member of the 82nd Airborne Division’s Hall of Fame.

“Let me say, without any reservations, this is the greatest honor that I have ever received. In the confusion in the world going on today, we have so much to be proud and thankful for. Number one, our armed forces today are led by the best trained, best equipped, best educated officers, noncommissioned officers and soldiers that the Army has ever had,” said Merritt. “Number two, we live in the best country in the world, the United States of America. Last, but certainly not least, we’ve been able to have two hundred and forty some odd years with our freedom all due to soldiers like you standing here today.”

Merrit occasionally visits the 1-508th PIR and 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division headquarters on Fort Bragg to speak with paratroopers and give them perspective on the foundations of the Army Airborne community.

“Command Sergeant Major Merritt is a national treasure and a living legend. When he visits the Panther Brigade on Fort Bragg, paratroopers have the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of the 82nd’s baptism by fire in the skies and on the ground during World War II,” said. Col. Gregory Beaudoin, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. “The honor he received today at the ASOM ensures generations of paratroopers to come will know about the valor and heritage of the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment,” continued Beaudoin.