555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (United States)

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555th Parachute Infantry Battalion
555th PIR.png
Shoulder sleeve patch of the Triple Nickle Association
Active 19 December 1943 – 22 August 1950
Country United States of America
Branch National Army
Type Airborne Infantry 92nd Infantry Division (later incorporated into the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division post World War II)
Role Airborne Firefighters
Size Battalion
Garrison/HQ Pendleton Army Airfield, Oregon
Nickname The Triple Nickles/Smoke Jumpers
Engagements World War II (Mainland USA)
James M. Gavin (Post World War II)

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion 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 December 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 92d 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 activated 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. One of the reasons for this decision was segregation. European theater commanders "simply had no use" for the black jumpers. The Asian theater was a different matter. Members of the 555 hoped to get into the war against the Japanese. 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'd be fighting the Japanese on the fire line in the Western United States.[1] [2]

During the winter of 1944–45, the Japanese sent 9000 fire balloons toward the western coast of North America. It was believed 1000 succeeded in reaching the United States, and 300 were witnessed. After three days, each balloon dropped an incendiary bomb.[3] In order to conceal the efficacy of these attacks, the missions of the 555th was kept clandestine in nature. In addition to fires started by the enemy incendiary devices, the 555th fought numerous other forest fires. 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 courageously participated in dangerous fire-fighting missions throughout the Pacific Northwest during the summer and fall of 1945. The group engaged in over 1200 missions, earning the nickname "Smoke Jumpers" in addition to "Triple Nickles." The only fatality in the unit died while jumping on 6 August 1945.

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 term Buffalo Nickles; the spelling derives from old English. Three buffalo nickels joined in a triangle or pyramid is the identifying symbol.[4]

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 deactivated on 15 December 1947, it became the organic 3d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regimentin the 82nd Airborne division.


After it was deactivated many of its former 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.


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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shaughnessy, Larry. "Trailblazing paratrooper broke color barrier in secret" [1], www.cnn.com, 25 March 2010, accessed 21 February 2011.
  2. ^ Sgt. Walter Morris inverted his parachute on Sunday, October 13, 2013 to rest in Heaven with 15 of the original smoke jumpers. He was 92 and a resident of Palm Coast, FL.
  3. ^ Wilkinson, Jeff (14 August 2010). "Paratrooper shares WWII stories". The Sun News. Retrieved 14 August 2010. 
  4. ^ "The History of the Triple Nickle 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion"[2], www.triplenickles.com, accessed 21 February 2011.


External links[edit]