Looking back at previous aerial attacks over America, and the bravery of the ‘Triple Nickels’

The Army’s 555 parachute infantry battalion was the nation’s first Black paratrooper infantry.
The U.S. has shot down four objects this month, beginning with a suspected Chinese spy balloon
Published: Feb. 15, 2023 at 10:16 PM EST
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor wasn’t the first and only time American soil suffered attacks during World War II.

Three years later in 1944, more chaos came from aggression traced to the Asian continent.

A released film from the National Archives explained how the Japanese government was sending balloon bombs to the western part of the U.S.

Fighting back meant relying on the skills of the Army’s 555 parachute infantry battalion, better known as the ‘Triple Nickels.’

They were nation’s first African-American paratroopers, whose unit was created during the second World War, and rather than being dispatched overseas, their assignment meant taking on balloon bombs.

Lt. Colonel Bradley Biggs headed up the outfit.

“Of course, the Japanese balloons were landing as far north as Canada and as far as south as Mexico,” Biggs said. “Some balloons landed in the streets of Boise, Idaho. That’s how widespread it was.”

Unlike the Chinese spy balloon that was recently shot out of the sky over the waters near South Carolina, the 1940s conflict resulted in paratroopers taking on the name ‘smoke jumpers’ in an operation titled Operation Firefly.

Sgt. Walter Morris was a member of the unit who fought the bombs aftermath.

“We went out there and we trained a couple of weeks learning how to jump into trees, which is something we had, were taught not to do,” he said. “We learned how to, to, to build fire lanes and we had a pick and a maddox. That was our, those are our tools.”

Langston Staggers was also picked for the assignment.

“When we got to Oregon, then they split us up,” Staggers said. “Half of us went up to Chico, California. But now it’s just like going out to jump in battle. You had your own gear and everything with you and, they take you out up in those mountains and round and they drop you this side, the fire, and then you had to climb and, and, and get through the fires.”

While members of the Triple Nickels all survived, a woman and five children in Oregon were killed after coming into contact with one of the balloons.

Military historian Patrick O’Donnell said the government’s plan was to keep things quiet regarding this invasion.

“The American government was actually pretty smart about how they approached the entire Japanese aerial bomb,” O’Donnell said. “They completely suppressed any sightings of the bombs or any from the, the press and everybody else. And what it did is it had an impact on fooling the Japanese into believing that the, the bombs were not even reaching the United States.”

Related: China threatens US entities over downing of balloon