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555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (United States)

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555th Parachute Infantry Battalion
Pocket patch of the Triple Nickle Association
Active19 December 1943 – 15 December 1947
CountryUnited States of America
BranchNational Army
TypeAirborne Infantry
RoleAirborne Firefighters
Part ofXVIII Airborne Corps, 82nd Airborne Division
Garrison/HQPendleton Army Airfield, Oregon
Nickname(s)The Triple Nickles/Smoke Jumpers
EngagementsWorld War II (Mainland USA)
James M. Gavin (Post World War II)

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, nicknamed The Triple Nickles, was an all-black airborne unit of the United States Army during World War II.



The unit was activated as a result of a recommendation made in December 1942 by the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, chaired by the Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy. In approving the committee's recommendation for a black parachute battalion, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall decided to start with a company, and on 25 February 1943, the 555th Parachute Infantry Company was constituted.

On 19, 1943, Headquarters, Army Ground Forces, authorized the activation of the company as an all-black unit with black officers as well as black enlisted men. All unit members were to be volunteers, with an enlisted cadre to be selected from personnel of the 92nd Infantry Division at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.

The company was officially activated on 30 December 1943, at Fort Benning, Georgia. After several months of training, the unit moved to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, where it was reorganized and redesignated on 25 November 1944, as Company A of the newly formed 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

World War II[edit]

Members of the battalion are briefed before takeoff from Fort Dix in 1947

The battalion did not serve overseas during World War II, primarily because it never reached full strength for an Airborne Infantry Battalion. In reaction to the German counterattack that began the Battle of Bulge, the Airborne Command considered reorganizing the 555th PIB as a single reinforced Airborne Rifle Company, and sending it to Europe to reinforce the battered Airborne units already there. However, before this could happen the crisis had passed, and the 555th PIB was instead alerted for deployment to the West Coast. The men of the 555th PIB hoped that they would get into the war against the Japanese, but that was not their new mission. According to Sergeant Walter Morris, "It was a secret mission called Operation Firefly. We thought we were going overseas to [Gen. Douglas] MacArthur's theater." It wasn't until they arrived in Oregon, in May 1945, that they learned they would be fighting the Japanese on the fire line in the Western United States.[1]

During the winter of 1944–45, the Japanese sent 9,300 Fu-Go balloon bombs toward North America. It was believed 1,000 succeeded in reaching the United States; 312 balloon bombs have been found.[2] After three days, each balloon dropped an incendiary bomb.[3] The balloon bombs employed a ballast system designed to maintain an average altitude of 30,000 feet. Incendiary bombs would be dropped one at a time (four 11-pounders) and a single high-explosive bomb (33 pounds) would be dropped followed by a self-destruct device.[2] In order to conceal the efficacy of these attacks, the missions of the 555th PIB was kept clandestine in nature. By January 1945, however, both Time and Newsweek reported the mission.[4]

Although there were no significant wildfires, small ones nonetheless developed from some of the balloon bombs being detonated suddenly after landing on the forests undisturbed for weeks or months mainly in California, Oregon, or Idaho.[5] Stationed at Pendleton Field, Oregon (formerly the base of the pilots and aircraft selected for the Doolittle raid on Japan), with a detachment in Chico, California, unit members participated in fire-fighting missions throughout the Pacific Northwest during the summer and fall of 1945. The 555th worked on twenty-eight fires during the 1945 season. Of these, fifteen fires were "jumped" or parachuted to.[6] While some United States Forest Service reports refer to some employees as smokejumpers, the 555th were reported as paratroopers on all fire reports.[6] The only fatality in the unit died while jumping on 6 August 1945.[7]

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was nicknamed the "Triple Nickles" because of its numerical designation and the selection of 17 of the original 20-member "colored test platoon" from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. Hence, the origin of the nickname, Buffalo Nickles. Not to be confused with the U.S. 5-cent coin that had a bison (buffalo) on it, which was first minted long before the war, the spelling derives from old English. Three buffalo nickels joined in a triangle or pyramid is the identifying symbol.[8]

Soon after returning to Camp Mackall in October 1945, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, its home for the next two years. During this period the unit was attached to the elite 82d Airborne Division. When the battalion was inactivated on 15 December 1947, its men were all transferred into the 3d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82d Airborne Division, which had been reduced to cadre strength to prepare for their arrival. Also on that date, the 505PIR was redesignated at the 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment.[9]

Soon afterward, individual black paratroopers were transferred to units throughout the 82d Airborne Division, making it the first integrated division in the US Army. The 555th PIB was formally disbanded 22 August 1950.[10]


After its inactivation, many former 555th PIB members later fought in the Korean War in other units. First Lieutenant Harry Sutton, one of the battalion's former officers, died leading a rearguard action during the Hungnam evacuation and was decorated posthumously with the Silver Star. In 1950, a large number of former 555th PIB members volunteered to form the all-black 2nd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne). While the 2nd RIC was attached to the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, it made the combat jump at Munsan-Ni in March 1951, the first combat jump ever made by a US Army Ranger unit. This was the only combat jump ever made by an all-black unit as the Army was segregated by race at the time. President Harry Truman had ordered the military desegregated on July 26, 1948,[11] but it was slow to comply with the order. The last all-black unit was disbanded in 1954.[12]

Clarence H. Beavers, the first volunteer for the 555th, went on to a career in computer systems with the Veterans Administration and US Defense Department, and served as a volunteer firefighter in retirement. He was the last surviving member of the unit when he died in 2017, at age 96.[13]

Although not specifically named, an all-Black parachute unit is prominently mentioned in the 1948 novel Fire, by George R. Stewart. Jumping into an uncontrolled California forest fire, they fight it for several days alongside people of many ethnic backgrounds.

In John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata military science fiction series, the 555 PIR is reactivated as the 555th Mobile Infantry Regiment. The reborn "Triple Nickle" Regiment was one of the most highly decorated units in the Defense of Earth during the Posleen War.

The Triple Nickles is prominently featured in the historical novel, The Last Jump - A Novel of World War II by John E. Nevola.

The Triple Nickles are an important part of the book Jump into the Sky, written by Shelley Pearsall.


  1. ^ Shaughnessy, Larry (25 March 2010). "Trailblazing paratrooper broke color barrier in secret". CNN. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b Webber, Bert (October 1997). Silent Siege III: Japanese Attacks on North America in WWII (3rd ed.). Medford, Oregon: Webb Research Group. ISBN 978-0-9367-3874-1.
  3. ^ Wilkinson, Jeff (14 August 2010). "Paratrooper shares WWII stories". The Sun News. Archived from the original on 11 September 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  4. ^ Biggs, Bradley (1994). The Triple Nickles: America's first all-Black paratroop unit. North Haven, CT: Archon Books. ISBN 978-0-2080-2402-2.
  5. ^ Coen, Ross (1 November 2014). Fu-go: The Curious History of Japan's Balloon Bomb Attack on America (Studies in War, Society, and the Military). University of Nebraska Press. p. 119. ISBN 9-7808-0324-9660.
  6. ^ a b Rahm, Neal (5 February 1946). Final Report: Firefly Project (Report). San Francisco: United States Forest Service.
  7. ^ Woodard, Scott C. (23 February 2016). "Medic Malvin L. Brown, First Casualty in the US Forest Service Smokejumper Program". AMEDD Center of History and Heritage. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  8. ^ "The History of the Triple Nickle 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion". Triplenickles.com. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 21 February 2011.
  9. ^ "505th Infantry (Panthers): 505th Infantry Lineage". U.S. Army Center of Military History. 25 July 1996. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  10. ^ "555th Parachute Infantry Battalion". U.S. Army Center of Military History. February 2014. Retrieved 11 October 2020.
  11. ^ President Harry S. Truman (26 July 1948). "Executive Order 9981: Desegregation of the Armed Forces". archives.gov. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  12. ^ "Executive Order 9981, Desegregating the Military". nps.gov. National Park Service. Retrieved 22 March 2022.
  13. ^ Smith, Harrison (11 December 2017). "Clarence Beavers, pioneering black paratrooper and smoke jumper, dies at 96". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 12 December 2017.


Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion. United States Army Center of Military History. Archived here: [1]

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