POLK COUNTY, Fla. – The 555th Parachute Infantry, better known as the “Triple Nickles," became the first all-black paratroopers unit during World War II.
“All of our officers were black from the top down and it meant a lot to me during that time,” veteran Jordan Corbett, and member of the “Triple Nickle” unit, said.
Corbett was 20 years old when he was drafted into the military. Two years later, and after being sent to different training camps, he was in Fort Bliss, Texas when he got a phone call to be part of America’s first all-black paratroopers unit.
“Segregation was really bad and they wanted us to prove that we could be as well as any other soldier,” he said.
The 555th Parachute Infantry got its nickname from the numerical designation and from the Buffalo nickel.
“The old nickel had a buffalo on it and since it was 555, they used three nickels as their symbol and that’s why we called it the triple nickel,” Corbett said.
The elite unit was deployed to Oregon in 1945 as part of a secret mission.
“We thought we were going to Japan because we did meet Japan on the way. They were sending incendiary bombs by the jet-stream,” the 97-year-old said.
During the Operation Firefly mission, Corbett and his fellow paratroopers parachuted into forest fires in the Pacific northwest caused by Japanese balloon bombs.
“That’s how we became smokejumpers,” he said. Dozens of smokejumpers leaped into trees.
"In that area, if you know, some of those trees were very tall, redwood, sequoia wood and we were given ropes to come down on," Corbett said.
Once on the ground, the smokejumpers used shovels to control the fires.
“Also, the (Japanese) were sending those bombs, those balloons that had explosives on them and some of them didn’t go off,” he said.
Part of their mission was to disarm and destroy any unexploded devices. It was an operation kept secret from the general public in order to deceive the Japanese military and make them think their strategy was working.
Now, 75 years later, Corbett still remembers that feeling from his first jump into those trees.
“It wasn’t as exciting as it was my first jump when I was training. My first jump when I was training--I had never been in an airplane before,” Corbett said. " And you know, just to think that this was the first time you’re in an airplane you have to jump -- I didn’t do anything right that first jump."
The Triple Nickles blazed new trails for future African American soldiers. During Black History month, Corbett wants to acknowledge those men.
“I want to commend those young men and those guys who followed us and especially those who kept the idea of the service the Triple Nickles had done.”