Troopers Take Their Last Jump  Troopers Take Their Last Jump  Troopers Take Their Last Jump
By Jeff Wilkinson, thestate.com It was Aug. 6, 1945, and as fire raged below him, Lonnie Walker, a soft-spoken 23-year-old U.S. Army paratrooper from rural Louisiana, plunged into the high canopy of trees and jerked mightily as his parachute snagged on a limb. Suspended, he tied one end of a 150-foot-long rope to his harness and dropped the rest of the length to the ground. Slipping out of his harness, he slid down the rope and began fighting the fire. One of Walker’s comrades, a medic named Malvin L. Brown, was not so fortunate. “He didn’t have enough rope to get down from his parachute,” said Walker, now 85, of Blythewood. “He fell and lost his life.” Walker was a member of the first African-American paratrooper battalion, the Triple Nickles, 555th Parachute Infantry. And on today’s 65th anniversary of V-J Day — Victory over Japan Day, Aug. 14, 1945 — the story of Walker and the Triple Nickles represents one of the least- known and most-bizarre campaigns of World War II. The fire that Walker was fighting that day was not in the jungles of the Philippines or on some south Pacific coral island. Instead, it was one of many ignited in U.S. and Canadian forests by Japanese incendiary bombs attached to balloons and launched across the Pacific Ocean. Since Gen. Jimmy Doolittle led his B-25 bomber crews — trained, in part, in Columbia — in their famous raid over Japan in the spring of 1942, the Japanese had endeavoured to spring the same kind of attacks on the United States. Only a handful were successful. In February 1942, a Japanese submarine shelled an oil field on a beach near Santa Barbara, Calif., and damaged a pump house. In June 1943, another Japanese submarine shelled a coastal fort in Oregon, and in September its crew assembled and launched a small plane that dropped incendiary bombs and started forest fires. But in the winter of 1944-1945, the Japanese launched more than 9,000 “fire balloons” toward the western coasts of the U.S. and Canada. The balloons were swept east at high altitude on the winter jet stream, controlled by an altimeter that discarded ballast or vented hydrogen from the balloon to maintain altitude. After three days of flight, the balloons would release their incendiary bombs. About 300 were spotted in the United States of 1,000 or so that were estimated to have survived the trip. On May 5, 1945, a pregnant woman and five children on a picnic were killed when they discovered a balloon bomb in southern Oregon. It exploded as they investigated. They are the only known civilian deaths from the fire balloons and the only known civilian U.S. World War II casualties in the mainland United States from enemy actions. The balloons were kept secret by U.S. authorities who were afraid of panicking civilians, even though the deadly devices were found as far east as Detroit. For Walker and his comrades, fighting fires on U.S. soil set by the Japanese was a service they had not expected. Created in December 1943, the “Triple Nickles” — a spelling derived from old English, Walker said — were part of the 92nd Infantry Division, the “Buffalo Soldiers.” Walker joined after he was drafted in 1943. It was a time when segregation still ruled the South, which had been wracked by poverty because of the Great Depression. Walker heard stories of plantation days from his grandfather, Clarence, an ex-slave. His father, also named Clarence, although college-educated, farmed on land owned by someone else. “You get half of what you raised,” Walker said. “The owner of the plantation, he gets his half. It’s called share-cropping.” For Walker, being in the Army was a liberation, even though training for the airborne was tough. “If I had to start all over again, be called into the service, that’s what I would be,” he said, referring to a paratrooper. “I was clothed in a uniform, which was great. We dressed different from everyone else, in shiny boots. I loved it.” But even in uniform the men of the 555th still had to use segregated toilets and drinking fountains, sit in the back of buses and avoid run-ins with racists, Northern and Southern. Walker remembers that during one furlough he was required to sit alone on the back seat of a bus with a black curtain pulled in front of him from Jackson, Miss., to his home in Louisiana. He served four years then returned home. He rarely spoke of his time in the Army until about 10 years ago. Then, his daughter and son-in-law, Ana and Byron Jones, wanted to buy him something special for Father’s Day. They thought a jacket and hat commemorating his service in World War II would be nice, Byron Jones said. When they asked him what unit he was in, he said the “Triple Nickles.” They looked it up on the Internet and were amazed to find her father had been a pioneering African-American paratrooper. “This guy is part of my family, and he’s a living piece of history,” said Byron Jones, an Army veteran who is supervisor of physical security for Fort Jackson. “It gives you a sense of pride.” Walker said that despite the racism his unit had to endure, he is happy that it, like the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen, was able to blaze a trail for other African-Americans. “Things have improved,” he said. “It makes me feel good that some of my work is not in vain.”
Pioneering African-American paratrooper fought WWII Japanese bombs on the home soil
© Official Site  Of 555th Parachute Infantry “Triple Nickle”. 2008
555th Parachute Infantry  555th Parachute Infantry  555th Parachute Infantry 1944 - 1947 1944 - 1947 1944 - 1947 TripleNickle.com TripleNickle.com TripleNickle.com Trooper Lonnie Walker  Trooper Lonnie Walker  Trooper Lonnie Walker