The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was nicknamed the "Triple Nickles" because of its
numerical designation and the selection of 17 of the original 20-member "colored test platoon"
from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. Hence, the origin of the term Buffalo Nickles; the
spelling derives from old English. Three buffalo nickels joined in a triangle or pyramid is the
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.
In the frosty Georgia winter of 1943-44, soldiers and officer candidates traveling to and from Fort
Benning often saw the sky filled with white parachutes. Most of them assumed that the faces beneath
the chutes were also white. The black soldiers they knew drove their trucks, waited on them in mess
halls, or hauled their ammunition; they rode in the back of the bus to and from Columbus; they gathered
at their own separate clubs on the fort.
Some of the faces beneath those chutes, however, were black. As such they were also pioneers,
blazing new trails for countless black soldiers to follow. It wasn't easy. 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 rail-road stations, sit in segregated sections of theatres, 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.
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.
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 Nickles served in
more airborne units, in peace and war, than any other parachute group in history.
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. These men soon became known as
the. . . . . . . “SmokeJumpers”
In early 1945 the "Triple Nickles" received secret orders for a permanent change of station. They were sent to Pendleton,
Oregon & assigned to the 9th Services Command, trained by the U.S. Forest Service, and became history's first military
There were two reasons for this assignment, the first being that major commanders in Europe were leery of having highly
trained colored paratroopers coming into contact with racist white elements of the time. There were two reasons for this
assignment, the first being that major commanders in Europe were leery of having highly trained colored paratroopers
coming into contact with racist white elements of the time.
Second, the Japanese were at the time floating incendiary devices attached to balloons across the Pacific Ocean, taking
advantage of the jet stream's easterly flow, in an attempt to start forest fires in the northwestern United States.
The Forest Service asked the military for help and the “Triple Nickle” was ready, willing and able. The battalion answered
some 36 fire calls with more than 1,200 individual jumps during the summer of 1945, operating from Pendleton and Chico,
Calif. The operation covered all of the northwestern states including Montana.
During fire operations the battalion suffered numerous injuries but only one fatality. Malvin L. Brown, a medic assigned to
the battalion's headquarters company, died on Aug.6, 1945 after falling during a letdown from a tree in the Siskiyou National
Forest near Roseburg, Ore. His death is the first recorded smoke jumper fatality during a fire jump.