On December 19, 1943, the Army Ground Forces Headquarters called for the activation of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, an all-black volunteer unit with officers and enlisted men. The unit was officially activated on December 30 at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first black enlisted paratrooper was Walter Morris. The unit trained for several weeks and then on November 25, 1944, moved to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, when it was reorganized as Company A, 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, formally becoming the world’s first black paratroopers. The unit became popularly known as the Triple Nickels. The battalion was never sent overseas during the war; it was instead sent to the west coast of the United States to remain alert for possible Japanese attacks. Its mission there was also to fight forest fires, and the battalion responded by assisting with a number of dangerous fire-fighting missions. The men made over one thousand jumps as they fought fires in Oregon and California, which earned them a second nickname, “Smoke Jumpers.” After the war the group organized as the 555th Parachute Infantry Association, using the motto “Before them there weren’t many, after them there weren’t any.” Three buffalo nickels stacked in pyramid form became their logo.
After a distinguished military career in the field, General Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H. W. Bush and secretary of state under President George W. Bush.