Company A, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, was activated at Fort Benning on December 31, 1943. Twenty-three officers and enlisted men were the first black soldiers to graduate from Jump School, long held to be one of the most difficult training centers in the Army.
The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, was activated at Camp Mackall, North Carolina, on November 25, 1944, under the command of Captain James H. Porter, often thought of as the “Father of the 555th.”
In March 1945, the 555th was ordered to provide a reinforced company for participation in Operation FIREFLY in Oregon and California. Japanese balloon bombs were causing forest fires along the Pacific Coast and the 555th troopers were the Nation’s first line of defense. At Camp Pendleton, Oregon, the company was trained in “smoke jumping” techniques, developed in the 1930s by the U.S.
Forest Service as a means to combat wild fires. Throughout the summer of 1944, the troopers plunged by parachute into some of the most difficult terrain in the Pacific Northwest. They were the Army’s first rough terrain jump specialists.
During late 1947, Major General James M. Gavin, 82nd Airborne Division Commander, conducted the ceremony that transferred the 555th troopers to the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Gavin’s action was a first step towards integrating black soldiers into the ranks of the 82nd. The 555th, the Army’s only black parachute battalion, was now on the inactive list, but the troopers always thought of themselves as Triple Nickles.
In the years ahead they would be the cutting edge of efforts to integrate the Army. Gavin’s vision of racial justice and their resolve would help transform the Army. They were a vanguard of freedom.