555th Parachute Infantry Battalion

For the history of the Triple Nickel 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion – click here.


Many congrats to the “555 Triple Nickle” gang…as they make news in Sundays Parade Magazine:


How These WWII Paratroopers Made Military History
FEBRUARY 22, 2014

Members of the Triple Nickle before a jump.(Airborne & Special Operations Museum)By MELBA NEWSOME
When Walter Morris, a former bricklayer from Waynesboro, Ga., joined the military in 1940, segregated black soldiers were relegated to menial tasks, serving as cooks, guards, or drivers for their white counterparts. “They didn’t believe we had the intestinal fortitude to fight,” said Morris, who recently passed away at age 92. Even POWs were accorded more respect. “We could see the German and Italian prisoners inside the post exchange on the base laughing, drinking, and smoking while we were not even allowed inside,” he said.
But Morris knew that, despite receiving second-class treatment, black troops were not second-rate service members and in 1943, he was able to prove it. That year, First Sgt. Morris was assigned to lead a group of black troops at Fort Benning, where the army was training an elite new division: paratroopers. Although blacks were barred from serving, the proximity of the training field to the colored barracks allowed Morris to observe and learn the routines. Each day when the white trainees left the field, Morris assembled his men and put them through the rigors of paratrooper training. “They loved it,” he recalled. “They wanted to be soldiers, not servants.”
Morris in 2010 at a Pentagon ceremony honoring the 555th  (D. Myles Cullen/Civ)
One day, the commander of the parachute school, Brig. Gen. Ridgley Gaither, witnessed the unauthorized training session and sent for Morris.”Who gave you permission to use my calisthenics field?” Gaither asked.  “No one, sir,” replied Morris. “I just wanted to create a bit of morale and self-esteem for the men.”
As it turned out, Morris’s initiative had impressed Gaither, who disclosed that the army had quietly authorized the activation of a select company of black paratroopers, as a result of pressure from civil rights leaders. He wanted Morris to lead them.  For the first class, the army recruited top-flight soldiers largely from the ranks of the all-black 92nd Infantry Division (a.k.a. the Buffalo Soldiers). As the unit’s sergeant, Morris was the first man pinned with the coveted ‘wings’.
By 1945, hundreds of African-Americans were part of the 555th battalion of trained paratroopers, known as the ‘Triple Nickle’. But though the group was combat-ready and alerted for duty, commanders in Europe and the Far East refused to deploy them. “I was told, ˜We don’t need the added war that would be fought between our own men if I have to integrate the troops,” explained Morris.  Instead, the men were assigned to Operation Firefly, a secret stateside mission. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the Japanese were using large balloons to float bombs and incendiary devices to the Pacific Northwest one of the few military attacks on the U.S. mainland during World War II. The 555th were deployed as ‘smoke jumpers’ to disarm the explosives and extinguish or contain the fires.
“We jumped in on 36 fires,” Morris said. “It was dangerous work.”  More than 400 men of the 555th made over 1,200 individual jumps, suffering many injuries but only one death.
After the war, in 1947, Major Gen. James M. Gavin bucked prejudice to make the Triple Nickle part of the 3rd Battalion of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne Division, creating what is recognized as the first black unit to be permanently integrated into the army.
In 2004, six decades after Morris joined the 555th, his grandson, Maj. Michael Fowles, continued his legacy by graduating as a paratrooper. Morris pinned his original wings on Fowles during the induction ceremony. “I always understood that [my grandfather] was the first black paratrooper, but I didn’t really understand the significance until I became a soldier and a beneficiary of his sacrifices,” says Fowles. “He proved that the color of a man has nothing to do with his ability.”
Craig J Meyer
USA Paratroopers
For the history of the Triple Nickel 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion – click here.