Equal in All Ways to All Paratroopers – The Origin of the “Triple Nickles”

“We were the only black outfit in the parade in New York,” he said, “but they cut off the movie cameras before they got to us. We only have still photos,” said Jordon J. Corbett when interviewed by Suzie Schottelkotte of The Ledger.[1]

Corbett was a member of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment, an outfit of all African-American parachutists who, after distinguished service during World War II, marched alongside the 82nd Airborne Division in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946.

The officers of the test platoon. From left to right: 1st. Lt. Jasper E Ross, 2nd. Lt. Clifford Allen, 2nd Lt. Bradley Biggs, 2nd Lt. Edwin Wills, 2nd Lt. Warren C Cornelius and 2nd Lt. Edward Baker. Photo courtesy of www.triplenickle.com/history.htm

 

General James Gavin, then-commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, ensured the “Triple Nickles” as they were known, marched in the parade. He would also play a key role in their reassignment to the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment; making the 82nd Airborne Division the first racially integrated unit in the Army on December 15, 1947.

On December 19, 1943, Headquarters, Army Ground Forces authorized what would become the 555th PIR according to the U.S. Army Center of Military History.[2] Based on a December 1942 recommendation by the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, both the officers and enlisted were to compose the African-American unit. Troop selection was to occur from the 92nd Infantry Division based at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. Like all paratroop units, they were to all be volunteers.

After its official activation December 30, 1943 at Fort Benning, Georgia, the unit had several months of training and eventually moved to Camp Mackall, North Carolina. The unit would be reorganized and redesignated November 25, 1944, the Company A of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

The shoulder insignia of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment, known as the “Triple Nickles.” Courtesy Photo

The “Triple Nickles” would never serve in conflict. Never reaching the full strength of an Airborne Infantry Battalion, the 555th PIR instead received orders to deploy to the West Coast in support of a secret mission named “Operation Firefly.”

Though in equal in all ways to all paratroopers, the men of the 555th PIR would face fierce racial discrimination both in the service and in the country they served.

[1] Schottelkotte, Suzie. “WWII black paratrooper to be honored Sunday,” The Ledger. https://www.theledger.com/news/20160205/wwii-black-paratrooper-to-be-honored-sunday (accessed January 25, 2019).

[2] U.S. Army Center for Military History. “555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.” CMH.com. https://history.army.mil/news/2014/140200a_tripleNickel.html (accessed January 25, 2019).

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