555th Parachute
Infantry Battalion

The Triple Nickels  1944 - 1947

Many years before "black pride" became a popular slogan, a small group of black American soldiers gave life and meaning to those words.  Born within an army that had traditionally relegated blacks to menial jobs and programmed them for failure, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or "Triple Nickles," succeeded in becoming the nation's first all-black parachute infantry test platoon, company, and battalion.

A proud black lieutenant, sergeant, or private, with polished boots and paratrooper wings, still had to use the "colored" toilets and drinking fountains in the railroad stations, sit in segregated sections of theaters, and go out of his way to avoid confrontations with racist police.  Black officers continued to find post officers' club closed to them.  But they endured, and proved themselves as airborne troopers--"as fine a group of soldiers as I have ever seen," in the words of the notoriously fussy General Ben Lear.

True, these black pioneers were exceptional men, specially selected for the task.  They were former university students and professional athletes, top-notch and veteran noncoms.  A major element in their success was that, unlike other black infantry units officered by whites, they were entirely black, from commanding officer down to the newest private.

Though combat-ready and alerted for European duty in late 1944, the changing tides of the war resulted in a different assignment--jumping over the blazing forests of the American northwest searching for Japanese balloon bombs, a job requiring exact skills and special courage.  In this unusual role, the 555th also confronted a new dimension in warfare involving the use of biological agents that could destroy woodlands and crops, but not humans.

Smoke Jumpers -- Army paratroopers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion stand at ease during inspection. The men were issued the usual "let-down" ropes and football helmets with wire face masks, but wore sheepskin outer garments rather than canvas smokejumper suits.

In fathering the 3rd Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment, the 80th Airborne Anti-aircraft Battalion, the 503rd Airborne Artillery Battalion, and the 2nd Airborne Ranger Company, and serving in the 82nd, 101st, 11th and 13th Airborne Divisions, the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team, the 188th and 511th Airborne Infantry Regiments, the Airborne Center and Special Forces, the Triple Nicklers served in more airborne units, in peace and war, than any other parachute group in history.

Bradley Biggs, Lt. Col. USA (Ret.)

This information is excerpted from the website of:

555TH PARACHUTE INFANTRY ASSOCIATION, INC.
Phone: 813-886-7845

Email: info@triplenickle.com

Please visit: http://www.triplenickle.com/smjprs.html