16 Led the Way for Black Paratroopers
Posted February 14, 1998 6:00 a.m. EST
FT. BRAGG — Although racial diversity is now commonplace in the Army, during World War II that was not the case. Japanese-Americans were not allowed to defend their country and were interned in segregated camps; African-Americans were admitted to the service, but in their own units. Sixteen black paratroopers were among those who led the way to change.
Members of what would become the 555th Parachute Infantry Company were recently honored for their contributions during a commemoration ceremony at Ft. Bragg.
Back in the 40s American soldiers were deep in wars in the European and Pacific theatres.
In the states, these soldiers were gaining ground in another battle, one that would allow African-Americans to serve in combat as equals with whites.
As Bradley Biggs recalls, it was a segregated army where blacks had no rights or privileges other than those granted by the white commander. "So you were assigned to the menial tasks, the low jobs," Briggs said. "You had no opportunity to advance because there was no organization available to you."
Change came in the form of a parachute. In the winter of 1944, 16 black soldiers were trained as paratroopers. They became the 555th Parachute Infantry Company--better known as the "Triple Nickels," the first African-American paratroop company in the United States Army.
Biggs was the first black officer assigned to the company.
"We're proud of ourselves because we cancelled segregation out of the Army," he said. "We had a part in it."
The legacy of the "Triple Nickels" lives on in the 82nd Airborne Division. The original members of the history-making group say they are proud of their part, but even prouder of the progress the army has made.
Walter Morris added, "If the civilians could just peek over the shoulder of what the army is doing, and has done, and try and catch up with the army, this would be a much, much better country to live in."