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Triple Nickles protected the Pacific Northwest during Word War II

All African-American unit that prevented forest fires will be celebrated in DuPont

The 555th Airborne waiting for a routine equipment check. Photo credit: National Archives

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On Thursday, Aug. 17, at 7 p.m., DuPont mayor Mike Courts will host "1945 Jumping into Fire: the True Story of the All African-American 555th Airborne Infantry Battalion in the Northwest" at Patriot's Landing. The presentation will be led by Bob Bartlett, PhD, a public sociologist at Eastern Washington University.

"This African-American unit performed a unique and critical role in the Pacific Northwest during World War II," Courts said. "Like their more famous colleagues, the Tuskegee Airmen, the Triple Nickles had to overcome the racial prejudice in both the U.S. and the Army just to get the opportunity to serve. Because of a unique Japanese effort to cripple the western U.S. with forest fires from incendiary balloon attacks, the 555th (Parachute Infantry Battalion) was designated to train in smoke jumping and bomb disposal. They developed the techniques we use today for our Forest Service smoke jumpers. Their efforts were largely unheralded, but vital to the war effort. We are privileged to host this presentation and hope you will be able to join us."

Mary Verner, Water Resource program manager at the Washington State Department of Ecology, was instrumental in bringing the presentation to DuPont.

"When I was in charge of Washington State's Department of Natural Resources wildfire program during the record-breaking wildfires of 2015, a colleague shared Jason Ramos' book, Smokejumper," she recalled. "The book makes passing reference to the ‘Triple Nickles,' an all African-American smokejumper outfit that pioneered the practice of dropping firefighters into remote areas inaccessible for traditional fire attack. Intrigued by the story, I conducted Internet research on the Triple Nickles (British spelling) and saw an announcement for a presentation about the 555th PIB to be held in Portland in late 2016. Although I couldn't make it to Portland, I made contact with the lecturer, who turned out to be Professor Robert Bartlett from Eastern Washington University, with whom I share numerous acquaintances from my years living and working in the Spokane area.

"Professor Bartlett hopes the amazing story of the 555th PIB will be told in a feature-length film," Verner continued," so he is eager to share the story to as broad an audience as possible to garner interest and support. He agreed to schedule another of his presentations about the Triple Nickles in the South Puget Sound area, if I would help organize the event. Soon, we were taxiing for takeoff. I'm grateful that the mayor of DuPont, where I currently reside, was willing to sponsor and host this presentation."

There is no charge for the Aug. 17 Triple Nickles event. It is open to the public, and all servicemembers and families are welcome.

Presentation of "1945 Jumping into Fire: The True Story of the All African-American 555th Airborne Infantry Battalion in the Northwest," 7 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 17, Patriots Landing, 1600 Marshall Circle, DuPont, free, 253.964.4900,

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