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'The Triple Nickles are an important part of Oregon's history'

Dubbed Operation Firefly, the 555th "Triple Nickles" Parachute Infantry Battalion parachuted into forest fires in the Pacific Northwest caused by Japanese balloon bombs. Their mission: disarm and destroy any unexploded incendiary devices. (Photos courtesy Oregon Historical Marker Program)

CAVE JUNCTION, Ore. - The elite paratrooper unit deployed on a secret mission in 1945.

Dubbed Operation Firefly, the 555th "Triple Nickles" Parachute Infantry Battalion parachuted into forest fires in the Pacific Northwest caused by Japanese balloon bombs.

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Their mission: disarm and destroy any unexploded incendiary devices - and keep it quiet.

"Operation Firefly was intended to keep the use of the balloons from being reported by the press, or being known by the general public, in order to deceive the Japanese military into believing that the balloons had been completely ineffective," according to the Oregon Senate resolution passed Thursday honoring the service of the Triple Nickles.

"Despite the inequities they experienced, these men demonstrated themselves above and beyond their duties to prove they were capable of anything expected of white soldiers in the same setting," said state Sen. Jackie Winters, R-Salem. "The 'Triple Nickles' are an important part of Oregon's history, and the history of the United States."

On Saturday, a historical marker in their honor will be unveiled at the Siskiyou Smokejumper Base Museum located at the Illinois Valley Valley Airport.

"The work to uncover and commemorate the lives of men who served in Oregon as part of the Triple Nickles is a great accomplishment," said Gwen Carr, Secretary of the Oregon Black Pioneers.

The 555th paratrooper's story is not confined solely to "Oregon Black history," Carr added, "but is a part of all Oregon history."

The marker will honor the 555th and the memory of one of their own: Pvt. First Class Marvin L. Brown, who died during a jump in Oregon.

"Oregon has never formally thanked the 555th for their role in defending Oregon during World War II," said Roger Brandt of the Illinois Valley Community Development Organization. "The 555th historical marker installation is taking the first step towards acknowledging their contribution to our state's history."

According to the Oregon Senate:

The company was officially activated on Dec. 30, 1943 at Fort Benning, Georgia. Although the battalion never served overseas during World War II, they were instrumental in protecting the West Coast during the War. Nicknamed the "Triple Nickels", the unit's symbol was three buffalo nickels formed into a triangle, in recognition of the number five and buffalo soldiers of the 92nd Infantry Division.

On Dec. 15, 1947, members of the "Triple Nickles" stood in formation as their 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was deactivated, and they were transferred into the 3rd Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. In losing their "Triple Nickles" identity, however, they became the first African-American unit to be integrated into an American combat division, more than six months before President Harry Truman's historic Executive Order 9981, signed on July 26, 1948, ordering desegregation of the United States Military.



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