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Incident Name: Lemon Butte on the Umpqua National Forest
Date:  August 6, 1945
Personnel:  Malvin L Brown from Baltimore MD
Age:  22
Agency/Organization:  555th Parachute Battalion, US Army
Position: Soldier/Paratrooper/Smoke Jumper/Triple Nickle

Summary: On August 6, 1945 PFC Malvin L. Brown, a member of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, died in the line of duty while on initial attack of a wildfire by the name of Lemon Butte on the Umpqua National forest. He and 200 or so paratroopers had been trained to be Smokejumpers at Pendleton, Oregon. They had been called in because during 1944, Japan had begun sending balloons -- which carried five fire bombs and a standard explosive -- to North America, via the jet stream. The Japanese plan was to start multiple wildfires and draw fighting troops away from the war effort in Europe and Asia. The threat was real and one way the U.S. hoped to defend against this threat was to crosstrain the paratroopers as wildland firefighters.

Malvin landed in the top of a fir tree that was 180 to 200 feet tall. As he tried to get to the ground on the 50 feet letdown rope he had been given, he some how lost his hold on the rope and fell into some rocks at the base of the tree and died. Brown at the time was nearly 18 miles from the nearest road up Steamboat Creek and Cedar Creek.

Photo of Malvin Brown from the National Smokejumpers Facebook page  Photo credit goes to the Philadelphia Inquirer who recently ran a story on Brown and the Triple Nickles .

Malvin L Brown Malvin L Brown

Shoulder sleeve patch of the Triple Nickle Association and screen saves from the WWII video on tripplenickle.com

555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel 555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel
555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel 555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel
555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel 555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel
555th Infantry Airborne - Fighting Fire 555th Infantry Airborne - Fighting Fire

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Maps

nearly 18 miles from the nearest road (that existed in 1945) up Steamboat Creek and Cedar Creek on the Umpqua National Forest

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Oregon Fallen Firefighter Memorial Database: Malvin L Brown (139 K pdf)
  • Article by SMG Rudi Williams of the Armed Forces Information Services: "Triple Nickles" Proved Blacks Could Jump from Airplanes
  • First Black Paratrooper: Perspective of Walter Morris, 1996
  • History: 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion

    Text below.

    555th Parachute Infantry Battalion

    The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was activated as a result of a recommendation made in December 1942 by the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies, chaired by the Assistant Secretary of War, John J. McCloy. In approving the committee's recommendation for a black parachute battalion, Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall decided to start with a company, and on 25 February 1943 the 555th Parachute Infantry Company was constituted (placed on the rolls of the Army).

    On 19 December 1943, Headquarters, Army Ground Forces, authorized the activation of the company as an all-black unit with black officers as well as black enlisted men. All unit members were to be volunteers, with an enlisted cadre to be selected from personnel of the 92d Infantry Division at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The company was officially activated on 30 December 1943 at Fort Benning, Georgia. After several months of training, the unit moved to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, where it was reorganized and redesignated on 25 November 1944 as Company A of the newly-activated 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion.

    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. Stationed at Pendleton Field, Oregon, with a detachment in Chico, California, unit members courageously participated in dangerous fire-fighting missions throughout the Pacific Northwest during the summer and fall of 1945, earning the nickname "Smoke Jumpers" in addition to "Triple Nickles."

    Soon after returning to Camp Mackall in October 1945, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, its home for the next two years. During this period the unit was attached to the elite 82d Airborne Division. When the battalion was inactivated on 15 December 1947, most of its personnel were reassigned to the division's organic 3d Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry. On 22 August 1950 the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was disbanded (removed from the rolls of the Army).

  • Wikipedia: 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion (United States)

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

  • Theysaid: 9/27/07 Discussion of the Triple Nickles and other Smoke Jumpers (Scroll up.)

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Media Articles and Reports.

Malvin Brown Malvin Brown

 

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

  • 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion- Triple Nickles WWII Film

    VIDEO (2.5 min): www.triplenickle.com

    WWII archival film footage of the first African American Paratroopers/Smoke Jumpers - 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion "The Triple Nickles". Watch these guys in training, then see them jump right into a blazing forest fire to attack that blaze! Amazing and rare footage of very brave men doing their dangerous jobs extremely well. Note how they land in the trees on purpose - "hooking the trees" as they called it was a vital part of their technique which allowed them to rope down to the ground at their own pace rather than slamming directly into dangerously hard and uneven mountain terrain upon landing. The 555th PIB were absolute pioneers in the Airborne world on so many levels. Look them up today to learn more about them - they deserve far more historical recognition and appreciation than they have ever received. Their Veterans Association Web Site is a fantastic reference and it can be found online at their web address above.

    PS - The Triple Nickles intentionally used the alternate spelling of the word " Nickels " as another way to further identify the uniqueness of their unit. When researching The Triple Nickles anywhere online, use both spellings as they are often interchanged in various sources.

  • Screen captures from several 1945 WWII videos:

     

    555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel 555th Infantry Airborne - Triple Nickel
    555th Infantry Airborne - Loading 555th Infantry Airborne - Loading
    555th Infantry Airborne - to Fight Fire 555th Infantry Airborne - to Fight Fire
    555th Infantry Airborne - Takeoff 555th Infantry Airborne - Takeoff
    555th Infantry Airborne - Out the Door 555th Infantry Airborne - Out the Door
    555th Infantry Airborne - Jumping 555th Infantry Airborne - Jumping
    555th Infantry Airborne - Landing at Fire 555th Infantry Airborne - Landing at Fire
    555th Infantry Airborne - Briefing 555th Infantry Airborne - Briefing
    555th Infantry Airborne - Fighting Fire 555th Infantry Airborne - Fighting Fire

     

  • Oregon Death Index: Malvin L Brown
  • USDA Forest Service Honored First African-American Smokejumpers

    March 30, 2010 | Online Article

    The last three living original members of the nation’s first African-American smokejumpers crew have been honored at USDA Forest Service Headquarters. The “Triple Nickles” were from the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion and were trained by the Forest Service to put out forest fires in the Northwest during the summer of 1945. Combat-ready, the “Triple Nickles” served a unique, secret assignment called “Operation Firefly.”

    “These highly skilled paratroopers used their military training in a different kind of combat few people were aware of,” said USDA Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Fighting the fires that had the potential to do great harm to the nation in a time of war was dangerous, important work. We are extremely pleased to honor them at our national headquarters for their heroic service to the Agency and the nation making more than 1,200 individual jumps during the summer of 1945.”

    (More at the link...)

  • Seventy Years Could Not Erase the Memory of a Wildfire Hero

    October 28, 2015 | Online Article

    It’s been a busy few months for the Triple Nickles, the U.S. Forest Service’s first African-American smoke jumping crew. On Aug. 6 of this year a member of the crew who was the first recorded death of a hot shot wildland firefighter was posthumously honored at his gravesite that was recently found after a long search.

    Seventy years ago, Pfc. Malvin L. Brown of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion known as the Triple Nickles, died while serving his country. Because of the racism prevalent in the segregated U.S military of the 1940s, Brown wasn’t given a burial with the honors he had earned.

    Brown’s life changed when in 1944, while WWII was raging in Europe, a small cadre of African-American men was training to become the Army’s first Black paratroopers. Within months, their ranks grew to a battalion. A year later they were sent to Oregon to be trained by the Forest Service as smokejumpers and firefighters—and by the Army as bomb diffusers for the Japanese balloon bombs, sent by the thousands across the Pacific to land along North America’s west coast.

    Brown died after falling from a tree during a wildfire after parachuting into the hot zone. His heroic death, though, received little attention at the time. However, this summer, Brown finally received the recognition and the media attention he deserved.

    Deidra McGee, an employee of the Forest Service, was able to locate family members who still resided in Pennsylvania where Brown had lived and invited them to attend the service.

    The family attended the Aug. 6 ceremony and more recently a second ceremony on September 10 also at the Mt. Calvary Cemetery near Baltimore, Md. The second ceremony took place during the Thirty Sixth Annual Triple Nickles Reunion.

    The Triple Nickles broke racial barriers and opened the door for African-Americans who have served the U.S. in every war and conflict. McGee has been an advocate for keeping the history of the Triple Nickles alive for more than two decades.

    McGee was recently honored at the Triple Nickles Reunion banquet for her 21 years of promoting, advocating and supporting these valiant men by making the nation aware of their role in history. McGee will become a life member of the Association in the near future, and, as the Triple Nickles Members say, she’ll be “Airborne All the Way!”

    (More at the link...)

  • Malvin L. Brown, Long Lost Baltimore Smoke Jumper, Finally Honored

    August 12, 2015 | Online Article

    Malvin L. Brown, a Black soldier who died during World War II, finally got the recognition he deserved.

    That’s because Brown, a member of the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, an all Black group, and his grave were long considered lost. The Triple Nickles, as the 555th was known, were well-known during their time and Brown’s death was reported on in The AFRO on Sept. 8, 1945.

    The Triple Nickles, who were trained to not only jump out of planes but also to fight fires, were a part of the plan to thwart possible attempts by the Japanese to fly large balloons over the West Coast that could be detonated over forests. If the forests were set ablaze, the thinking went, then much needed resources for the War would have to be diverted to fight the fires.

    Brown was born Oct. 11, 1920 and enlisted at the age of 22.

    (More at the link... including photo of dignitaries at his gravesite.)

  • Buried at Mt Calvary Cemetary

    812 Highway # 408

    Lothian

    Anne Arundel County

    near Baltimore, Maryland

 

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Contributors to this article: Mellie, RADAR, Big Smooth, Young and Still Learning, JerseyBoy, John Miller, National Smokejumpers

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