Tag Archives: 82nd airborne

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.

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).

Recon Paratroopers Conduct Qualification Range

Recon paratroopers form 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment conducted an M4 qualification range Sunday, January 13th as part of their Crew Gunnery Course at Fort Pickett, Virginia.

The qualification range is the first step as the Squadron’s paratroopers progress in their Off-Post-Training cycle at Fort Pickett.

The off-post training cycle gives paratroopers and leaders of the Squadron an opportunity to conduct realistic, tough training in the complex environment offered by Fort Pickett’s range complex.