Little Known Black History Fact: The Triple Nickles

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  • 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.

     
        
     

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