Although not original members of the first Triple Nickles Platoon, Thomas McFadden (left) and Joe Murchison (right), who is the current President of the Triple Nickles Association, attend an event at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum honoring their comrades. (U.S. Forest Service photo)
Most people don’t conjure up images of the U.S. Forest Service when they think of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. But every fire season the work of the Forest Service’s planes and helicopters, carrying smokejumpers, are vitally important to controlling the spread of wildland fires.
This is why the Smithsonian recently honored the legacy of 17 of some of the most lionized smokejumpers in Forest Service history. Known as the Triple Nickles, these smokejumpers were the first all-African American crew in American firefighting. Read more »
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., former chief of staff of the Army, talks to Lt. Col. Roger Walden during a recognition ceremony at the Pentagon on March 25, 2010. (U.S. Army)
During World War II, a time when segregation was still a part of everyday life, a group of 17 brave men took the plunge to serve their country and become the first all African-American paratrooper unit known as the Triple Nickles.
The battalion’s original goal – to join the fight in Europe – was thwarted when military leaders in Europe feared racial tensions would disrupt operations. At about the same time, the U.S. Forest Service asked the military for help to minimize damage caused by balloon bombs launched by the Japanese across the Pacific Ocean with the intent to start forest fires in the western U.S. during World War II.
In the end, few of the incendiary devices reached U.S. soil, but the Triple Nickles were instrumental in helping the Forest Service fight naturally-caused fires. They became history’s first military smokejumpers who answered 36 fire calls and made more than 1,200 jumps that summer of 1945. Read more »
L to R: U.S. Army Sgt. Clarence H. Beavers, Triple Nickles' Association President Joe Murchison, Smokey Bear, 2nd Lt. Walter Morris and Lt. Col. Roger S. Walden visited the U. S. Forest Service in Washington, D. C., March 26, 2010.
In the summer of 1945, a group of African-American paratroopers for the U.S. Army became smokejumpers assigned to a special Forest Service mission known as “Operation Firefly.” Also known as the Triple Nickles, they represented the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion for colored soldiers who set out to make a jump for change.
Two of these valiant, pioneering men recently passed away or “took their last jump” as the Triple Nickles Association likes to say.
Lt. Col. Roger S. Walden, 91, took his last jump on Sept. 17. Walden will be interred at Arlington National Cemetery at a later date. Second Lt. Walter Morris, 92, took his last jump on Oct. 13 and was memorialized on Oct. 19 in Palm Coast, Fla. Read more »