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As It Was: Oregon Historical Marker Recognizes Black Smokejumpers

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion established several “firsts” during World War II.

The 555th, nicknamed the Triple Nickels, was the nation’s first and only segregated black paratrooper unit and the first and only military unit to work as smokejumpers.  Unfortunately, it also recorded the first smokejumper death in American history when one of the troopers who landed in a tree fell to his death on Aug. 6, 1945, near Roseburg, Ore.

An Oregon Historical Marker recognizing the battalion was dedicated in June at the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum outside Cave Junction, Ore.

The marker states:

“During the time they worked as smokejumpers, they were stationed in both Oregon and California with much of their work being done in secrecy under the code name ‘Operation Firefly.’ They were assigned to find and dismantle ‘Japanese balloon bombs,’ which were incendiary bombs attached to 30 foot diameter balloons launched in Japan and carried in jet streams to this continent. The secrecy was intended to avoid public awareness of this on-going attack to reduce panic among the population as well as not let the Japanese know that their intercontinental attack was working.”


Source: "Commemoration Event 555th Parachute Infantry Batallion." Highway 199 Redwood Highway Oregon-California, Highway199.org, 2017, www.highway199.org/events-page/555th-parachute-infantry-commemoration/. Accessed 19 Aug. 2017.

Kernan Turner is the Southern Oregon Historical Society’s volunteer editor and coordinator of the As It Was series broadcast daily by Jefferson Public Radio. A University of Oregon journalism graduate, Turner was a reporter for the Coos Bay World and managing editor of the Democrat-Herald in Albany before joining the Associated Press in Portland in 1967. Turner spent 35 years with the AP before retiring in Ashland.