WASHINGTON, MARCH 26, 2010 AT 11:45 AM EDT - The last three living original members of the nation’s first African-American smokejumpers crew have been honored at USDA Forest Service Headquarters. The “Triple Nickles” were from the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion and were trained by the Forest Service to put out forest fires in the Northwest during the summer of 1945. Combat-ready, the “Triple Nickles” served a unique, secret assignment called “Operation Firefly.”
“These highly skilled paratroopers used their military training in a different kind of combat few people were aware of,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Fighting the fires that had the potential to do great harm to the nation in a time of war was dangerous, important work. We are extremely pleased to honor them at our national headquarters for their heroic service to the agency and the nation making more than 1,200 individual jumps during the summer of 1945.”
The Triple Nickles served in more airborne units, in peace and war, than any other parachute group in history. The 555th paved the way for African-American soldiers to become part of the prestigious 82nd Airborne Division, when the triple Nickles were absorbed into the 82nd Airborne in 1947.
The 555 Parachute Infantry Association located in Tampa, Florida was founded in 1979 to keep alive the legacy of the Triple Nickles. There are more than 1,000 members in 28 Triple Nickles chapters.