HERNDON, Va. (Sept. 21, 2015) — Paying homage to the first African-American Army parachutists, Army Materiel Command’s Commander Gen. Dennis Via said they paved the way for integration.
Via was the keynote speaker during the 555th Parachute Infantry Association’s 36th annual reunion, Sept. 12. The association celebrates the legacy of the Army’s first all-black parachute battalion.
“When I think about the era in which you entered the airborne corps, I am humbled by your strength,” Via said. “I am humbled by your tenacity, I am humbled by your persistence and your sheer determination, but I am most humbled by your ability to place so much trust in an organization which, at that time, didn’t necessarily place that same trust in you.”
Activated in December 1943, the men who volunteered for the first company were airborne-qualified, but were not exempt to society’s segregation, including separate bathrooms, drinking fountains and living conditions.
Via was introduced by retired Col. Porcher “P.T.” Taylor, who was a member of the Triple Nickles and also served as one of Via’s ROTC instructors at Virginia State University.
“Thanks to the trail you blazed 70 years ago, there are thousands of Soldiers whose services as paratroopers, and whose military careers, were all made possible by the Triple Nickles,” Via said.
The 555th was nicknamed the “Triple Nickles” for its numerical designation and because it was part of the 92nd Infantry Division of “Buffalo Soldiers.”
“When you stepped out of that plane so many decades ago, you stepped into more than thin air, you stepped into history,” Via said. “Every paratrooper, who followed you out that door in the subsequent decades, including this Soldier, owes you a deep debt of gratitude.”
The battalion didn’t serve overseas during World War II, instead the members deployed to the Pacific Northwest for a top secret mission, Operation Firefly, in May 1945. The paratroopers earned the nickname of “smoke jumpers” for their actions combating forest fires ignited by Japanese balloons carrying incendiary bombs.
“We will never forget, and I’ll certainly never forget, that the discipline, the dedication and the commitment to persevere you displayed gave our Army cause to abandon its segregated units and incorporate the Triple Nickles into the 82nd Airborne Division. Thus, paving the way for true integration in the years ahead,” Via said. “You helped lay the foundation that I continue to stand upon today.”