Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth Commander Lt. Gen. David Petraeus and retired 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, one of the original members of the 555th Parachute Infantry "Triple Nickles" Battalion, applaud the unveiling of a bust honoring members of the first and only all-black World War II parachute battalion at a dedication ceremony Sept. 7, 2006, in the Circle of Firsts in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. The bust was modeled after Morris, who was also the first black enlisted man accepted for airborne duty. The bust is located by Smith Lake near the Buffalo Soldier Monument, which was also created by the bust's sculptor Eddie Dixon. File photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

Charlotte Richter | Staff Writer

Special Troops Battalion hosted an observance in honor of the 555th Parachute
Infantry Battalion “Triple Nickles” Oct. 13 in the Circle of Firsts in the Buffalo Soldier
Commemorative Area. The observance featured guest speaker Col. Kelvin Swint,
director of the Combat Training Center Directorate, and was attended by members
of the Alexander/Madison Chapter – Greater Kansas City/Leavenworth Area 9th and 10th
(Horse) Cavalry Association and other members of the community.

John Bruce and George Pettigrew, president and executive vice president, respectively, of the Alexander/Madison Chapter – Greater Kansas City/Leavenworth Area 9th and 10th (Horse) Cavalry Association, salute during the national anthem at a ceremony to remember retired 1st Sgt. Walter Morris and other members of the all-black 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion Oct. 13 by the Circle of Firsts in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. The ceremony was conducted by the bust that was dedicated in 2006 and made in Morris’s likeness, and the date of the ceremony coincided with the anniversary of Morris’ death in 2013. Other post memorials will be featured in upcoming ceremonies, including the Berlin Wall Monument next month. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp


The ceremony was conducted next to the bust dedicated to the 555th Parachute
Infantry Battalion and made in the likeness of 1st Sgt. Walter Morris, the first soldier
assigned to the 555th. The date of the observance coincided with the anniversary of
Morris’ passing on Oct 13, 2013.

The 555th Parachute Infantry Brigade, whose members were nicknamed “Smokejumpers” and the “Triple Nickles,” began in February 1943 following approval for a black parachute battalion. The test company officially activated Dec. 30, 1943. It was
composed of 17 black officers and enlisted soldiers, led by Morris. It later developed into
Company A of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion Nov. 25, 1944.

The name “Smokejumpers” comes from the battalion’s contributions to domestic relief during World War II. Rather than serve overseas, the group was assigned to “Operation Firefly” to combat the threat of Japanese incendiary bombs along the Pacific Northwest in the U.S. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the battalion fought forest fires for much of 1945.

Following its service on the West Coast, the 555th was attached to the 82nd Airborne
Division from 1945 to 1947. The battalion deactivated in December 1947, and most of the soldiers were reassigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 505th Airborne Infantry. The 555th Parachute Infantry Airborne Battalion disbanded in August 1950.

Swint’s first unit in the Army was the 3rd Battalion of the 505th Airborne Infantry,
a direct descendant of the 555th Battalion. Swint said that the 505th Airborne Infantry
sustains an appreciation for the linage drawn from the Triple Nickles. He said he felt wel-come in his experiences in the 505th despite adversity he has faced in his military career.
He said the 555th fulfilled a role in improving equity in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Guest speaker Col. Kelvin Swint, director of the Combat Training Center Directorate, delivers remarks during a ceremony to remember retired 1st Sgt. Walter Morris and other members of the all-black 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion Oct. 13 in the Buffalo Soldier Commemorative Area. The ceremony coincided with the anniversary of Morris’ death in 2013 and was conducted near the bust that was dedicated in 2006 and made in Morris’s likeness. Other post memorials will be featured in upcoming ceremonies, including the Berlin Wall Monument next month. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“Those men fought in an environment where they weren’t really valued, they weren’t
welcomed, and they weren’t invited. They had to scratch and fight for every opportunity they got,” Swint said. “We haven’t by anymeans solved or arrived at where we even-tually want to be, but there has been some progress.”


Swint said the observance allowed people to appreciate their differences and recognize
diversity as a strength in the military.

“Oftentimes we talk about delineations in history, and what I’d like to remind people is that this is our American military history that is absolutely informed and infused by these
incredible achievements and the challenges and sacrifices of these African American
troopers throughout the years.”

Swint said he was thrilled to be asked to speak at the event.

“It’s one thing to know you belong, to know your worth and to know your purpose,
but imagine what’s possible when others embrace that, too,” Swint said.

Other memorials around post will be highlighted with ceremonies in the coming months. The next event, organized by Army University, will be at the Berlin Wall
Monument Nov. 9.

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