Fort Leavenworth Honors the 555th BN Smokejumpers with a memorial program.
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan.-- Fort Leavenworth, the Combined Arms Center (CAC), and the Special Troops Battalion (CAC STB) celebrated the memory of 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion Triple Nickles “Smokejumpers”. The memorial was held on Fort Leavenworth at the Buffalo Soldier Monument and the Circle of Firsts Memorial Park, in front of the bust of 1st Sgt. Walter Morris. Morris was one of the original 17 jumpers assigned in the 555th, making him one of the first black paratroopers in the U.S Army.
Col. Kelvin Swint, Combined Arms Center Training (CAC-T) Combat Training Center Directorate, was the guest speaker Wednesday October 15, 2021. The event was hosted by Brig. Gen. Jerry Prochaska, Deputy Commanding General CAC Army National Guard. Swint spoke to both the history of the 555th, 1st Sgt. Morris and the advancement of quality troops who paved the way for Soldiers like Morris. Swint remarked that the event was to celebrate the collection of history in the most distinguished way possible. Swint thanked the “living legends” from The Buffalo Soldier 9th/10th (Horse) Cavalry Association, Alexander/Madison Chapter of the KC area to the over 80 attendees present Wednesday saying that there was enough inspiration to go around for everyone. Quoting Morris, Swint addressed the crowd saying, “What we proved is that the color of the man has nothing to do with his abilities.”
The 555th was activated based on 1942 Negro Troop policies. By 1943 the authorization activated a company with an all-black unit, consisting of both black officers and enlisted men. All unit members were volunteers. The Battalion did not serve overseas during World War II but served on the West Coast in 1945 to combat forest fires ignited by Japanese balloons carrying incendiary bombs. While the threat of incendiary bombs did not materialize, the 555th fought numerous other forest fires earning them the nickname “Smokejumpers” in addition to the Triple Nickles. From May to October of 1945, Battalion members completed more than 1200 jumps. Members participated in several classified missions across seven western states and one Canadian province. The Battalion was inactivated on 15 Dec. 1947. Troops were reassigned to the division’s 3d Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry. On 22 Aug. 1950 the 55th was disbanded and removed from Army rolls.
1st Sgt. Walter Morris was born on January 23, 1921. He was appointed the first sergeant of the all-black service company charged with guarding the Army’s airborne school at Fort Benning, GA, when he convinced the commander of the school that African Americans can do as well as white paratroopers. He was then the first black Soldier selected for parachute duty and the first Senior NCO of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company. The commandant of The Parachute School personally selected him to lead the original 17 black Parachute School volunteers after becoming aware of him secretly leading his subordinates through the School’s conditioning course after duty hours. Morris was appointed at age 23. Morris was the only black student in his class at the Adjutant General School. He completed Officer Candidate School in August of 1944. Morris left the Army after World War II and became a bricklayer and a construction supervisor. Morris and his extended family attended the dedication of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion Memorial which features a bust in his likeness. The memorial was dedicated on 7 September 2006. Morris died in October of 2013 at the age of 92.
The Buffalo Soldier Monument was dedicated on July 25, 1992 by General Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was the first African-American to serve in that capacity. The Buffalo Soldier serves as a memorial to the 9th and 10th Cavalry Units which were composed of black enlisted men who fought on western front beginning in 1866. Other Circle of First Memorial Park dedications include; Gen. Colin Powell, 2nd Lt. Henry Flipper, Gen. Roscoe Robinson Jr., Maj. Gen. Benjamin H. Grierson, and the Cold War Victory Monument. The Circle of Firsts Memorial Park is free and open to all Fort Leavenworth accessible public.