About 60 soldiers and supporters of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion gathered on a field at Fort Benning today to remember 16 members of the first black paratrooper unit known as the “Triple Nickels.”
“Everybody should know what these 16 brave men did on the 18th of February 1944,” said William Lyde, past president of the Richard W. Williams Chapter of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.
Out of a total of 20 men in the original group, 16 completed the training and stood on the field off Indianhead Road to receive their Airborne Wings. A monument was dedicated in their memory during a brief ceremony.
The soldiers left Fort Benning for Camp Mackall, N.C., where they waited for a combat mission. “They went to Camp Mackall and awaited to go to combat but no commander wanted them,” Lyde said. “They were the largest battalion and well trained at the time.”
The men were finally sent to Oregon and California to intercept about 9,000 incendiary balloons launched to the northwest by Japanese submarines during World War II.
The “Triple Nickels” became smoke jumpers, completing more than 1,200 jumps with only one death.
“They were gambling that black men didn’t have the courage to jump out of an aircraft,” Lyde said. “They were proven different.”