Community celebrates Black History Month
Kent Bolke, 10th Mountain Division (LI) and Fort Drum Historical Collection curator, speaks Feb. 11 about Soldiers of the 555thy Parachute Infantry Battalion who served during World War II at Fort Drum's black History Month observance.

FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Fort Drum community members gathered Thursday at the Commons to celebrate contributions of African-Americans to the culture and fabric of America and the world.

Guest speaker for the Black History Month observance was Kent Bolke, Fort Drum Historical Collection curator. He spoke about the brave struggle of "Triple Nickel" Soldiers of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, which was an all-black airborne unit of the U.S. Army during World War II.

The battalion did not serve overseas during World War II; however, in May 1945, it was sent to the West Coast of the United States to combat forest fires ignited by Japanese balloons carrying incendiary bombs. Although this potentially serious threat did not materialize, the 555th fought numerous other forest fires. Soldiers courageously participated in dangerous firefighting missions throughout the Pacific Northwest during the summer and fall of 1945, earning the nickname "Smoke Jumpers."

"To me, these weren't the first black Soldiers to do something, they were the first Soldiers to do something," Bolke said. "These Soldiers were inspiring in their courage to do something unequalled during a time of inequality."

He said observances such as these help shed light on not only the history of African-Americans in the U.S., but on all Americans and how bright the future is because of the price paid by their predecessors.

"As these Soldiers made history, they also started a future," Bolke said. "Because of these brave men and their professionalism, a new breed of firefighters called 'Smoke Jumpers' (was) born, and (they) are among the best of the best of wild land firefighters.

"Their legend lives on, and they will never be forgotten," he added.
Members of the audience agreed.

Fort Drum Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Ronald Andrews said he enjoyed the program and learned something new about Army and American history.

"This is a great event," Andrews said. "It is not just for black history, but for everybody's history. History is something we all have shared a part of and we have all learned throughout the years.
"These events allow us to share in and overcome our differences, celebrate black history and understand how far we have come as a nation," he added.

Others said celebrations like Black History Month help people from diverse backgrounds who serve together in the military gain an important understanding of other cultures.

"This is for those who might not know a lot about African-American culture but want to learn something new and interesting," said Master Sgt. John Parmigiani, 1st Brigade Combat Team equal opportunity adviser. "We had a really good turnout. These (events) are always a learning experience, and I hope everyone took something from it."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16