First black paratroopers trained at Ft. Benning

First black paratroopers trained at Ft. Benning

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - In the winter of 1943, 20 young African-American enlisted men were ordered to Fort Benning to be trained as parachutists.

These young men were pioneers because, never before in the segregated military system, were blacks considered  intelligent enough or brave enough to serve in combat units of any type and certainly not capable of being paratroopers.

"No white commander wanted any of the black soldiers in their unit," said Mike Lyde. "You know we have to tell the history the way it is."

In early 1944, 16 of these young men completed training despite subjection to treatment designed to make them fail, and were awarded the Silver Wings of qualified parachutists.

They went on to form the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, also known as the "Triple Nickels."

Now that the gates were open, a flood of young, black men volunteered for parachute training.

"They became what you call smoke jumpers," said Thomas Snelling. "They put out fires and once they were successful at doling that, then they were given an opportunity to really establish themselves as United States paratroopers being all black American paratroopers so that itself is a legacy."

A legacy right at Ft. Benning showing where members of the Triple Nickles Battalion stood in formation as this proud, one-of-a kind battalion became the first black unit in history to be part of an American combat division.

"That rock is in position where that class stood back in 1943 during the morning of their graduation."

That's why these men are spreading the word in Columbus about the Triple Nickles and how their courage and competency paved the way for an integrated military.

Although the team was trained and ready to jump, the military did not actually call on them early on. Their first mission ended up being a special operation called "Operation Firefly."

The 555th Parachute Infantry Association was the largest airborne unit at the time and was formed to pay homage to these brave troops and to maintain their memory.

Copyright 2015 WTVM. All rights reserved.