The Triple Nickles battle prejudice and smoke to earn their place in history
The city of Cave Junction celebrated the service of the WWII US Army parachute infantry battalion known as the Triple Nickles by dedicating a historic marker in their honor on June 3, 2017. The 555th was a segregated parachute battalion that has earned it’s rightful place in Oregon’s black pioneer history acknowledges Gwen Carr of OBP: “The work to uncover and commemorate the lives of men who served in Oregon as part of the Triple Nickles is a great accomplishment.”
555th comes to Oregon
The planning committee of the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization, led by Roger Brandt, created a ceremony that helped the audience learn about the mission of the men of the 555th and their service to Oregon and the USA while beating the many odds against them.
The 555th fought Operation Firefly, a secret mission during WWII for the the US Army then training with the Forest Service. They lived a commitment to serve despite facing daily discrimination. Cave Junction’s commemorative marker assures their story will not be forgotten.
A Day to Remember and Say Thanks
June 3rd proved to be a glorious summer morning at the Illinois Valley Airport in Cave Junction. Representatives from the US. Military, Forest Service and Smokejumpers Association joined representatives from the Historic Marker Program of the Oregon Travel Experience and the Oregon Black Pioneers. OBP board members Gwen Carr and Zoe Morrison greeted their hosts and visitors at the adjoining grounds of the Siskiyou Smokejumpers Museum. The airfield was filled with activities including a Firefighter Pancake Breakfast, Fun Run, Live Music and a time to listen to the courageous stories of the 555th.
Learning the Untold Stories
Roger Brandt presented an slideshow demonstrating how the arsenal of Japanese balloon bombs were built by schoolchildren then set aloft by the Japanese military in the jet stream maneuver Project Fugo. The Japanese military’s intent was to drop balloon bombs throughout the West causing forest fires. Some of these bombs floated the jetstream to land as far away as Michigan during the height of the launches.
Gwen Carr’s presentation briefly told the story of Oregon’s early black history dating from 1788 and the pattern of racism as it developed into a state with Black Exclusion Laws. She told stories of a few of the early black pioneers who lived in Oregon and persevered in spite of these laws. Her presentation gives context to the Triple Nickles story.
Next came Dr. Robert Bartlett, PhD, professor at Eastern Washington University and 555th expert. He offered a wrenching narrative showing the uphill battle members of the 555th faced from their own military command unit and the communities in which they lived including several quotes by paratroopers from the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.
Dr Bartlett gave a brief biography of Private First Class medic Malvin Brown who lost his life during a jump. His story is memorialized on the Triple Nickles commemorative marker.
Operation Firefly fights two battles: Race and Smoke
Despite the lack of initial training and being improperly equipped the paratroopers found ways to adapt their uniforms creating a helmet ‘mask’ adaption still used by smokejumpers today.
The grit of the battalion was evident as they steadily accomplished their mission of protecting the Western US from fire disaster. The Triple Nickles smokejumpers put out more than 30 fires set by the stealthy Japanese balloon bombs during their mission.
Cave Junction Mayor Acknowledges Past
Throughout the ceremony the racism and discrimination faced by the 555th was acknowledged. Daniel Dalegowski Cave Junction Mayor offered a heartfelt apology for his community’s racist past, recognizing how it affected the Triple Nickle soldiers.
Capping the ceremony Smokey Bear unveiled the Triple Nickles Commemorative marker beside honored guests.
As the ceremony wound up attendees viewed the commemorative marker up close. A WWII era plane performed a flyby, dropping streamers on the airfield representing the members of the Triple Nickles smokejumpers.
Then came the chance to tour the Siskiyou Smokejumpers Museum. A life-size replica of Private First Class Malvin Brown outfitted in field gear stands at attention inside a display.
Here is a chance to view smokejumper memorabilia, sewing benches and long tables for folding the parachutes bring the story alive. The museum does an excellent job of demonstrating the experience and bravery required for fighting forest fires in the Pacific Northwest.
Cave Junction and the Triple Nickles Marker
We encourage you to take a trip to Cave Junction like OBP supporters Delores and Don Paxton who made a point of traveling from their home in Gold Beach for the ceremony. When visiting you’ll find yourself moved by the bravery the Triple Nickles displayed protecting our forests and nation.Their mission contained the possibility of multiple devastating threats by the Japanese during World War II.The Triple Nickles historic marker is a jewel you won’t want to miss at the Illinois Valley Airport and the Siskiyou Smokejumpers Museum complex.
555th Marker Dedication Resources