Triple Nickles site search sheds light on lives of Pendleton's black paratroopers

The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion prepares to make its first jump on a forest fire on July 20, 1945, in the Meadow Lakes National Forest in Idaho.

A tip of the hat to the new historical marker slated for Pendleton’s Main Street to pay tribute to the Triple Nickles.

This town’s history is rich, and each new tribute and display in the public sphere should highlight an underrepresented piece of that history. The Triple Nickles are a worthy addition.

The all-black paratrooper unit, officially the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, was stationed at Pendleton Field in 1945 and fought fires in the Pacific Northwest. Between late 1944 and spring of 1945, Japan attacked the West Coast with thousands of balloon bombs. The paratroopers disarmed bombs and put out fires, doing dangerous work to keep the homefront secure while the nation was at war.

In return, the men were treated with cold disdain, according to member Bradley Biggs, who went on to retire as an Army lieutenant colonel.

“In town, the reception was cold,” Biggs wrote in a letter. “We could not eat in any of the restaurants in town and found it difficult to buy a drink or a meal. Hotels would not serve us.”

The 3-foot-by-4-foot marker will be displayed — rightfully — near the Pendleton Air Museum, featuring a history of the group’s accomplishments. Umatilla County is supplying a $2,500 grant to cover a bulk of the cost, with the Pendleton Underground Tours pitching in $1,000. The design and production is by the Oregon Travel Information Council.

A kick in the pants to Pilot Rock school officials for failing to call 911 after one student assaulted another on the high school campus.

To his credit, Superintendent Steve Staniak admitted he should have called police when he first found out about the fight, the result of which landed a 15-year-old student in the hospital and an 18-year-old student in jail. But it should have been obvious to any teacher, administrator or adult that a serious incident on school property warrants police intervention and investigation.

Administrators initially sent both students home with the idea that they would follow up in the morning. The younger boy was taken to St. Anthony and flown to OHSU in Portland, while the older boy walked off campus on foot before being arrested on felony assault charges.

The city of Pilot Rock has made the commitment to keep its police department, which is an expensive proposition for a small town. But the benefit is having a quick response from professional law enforcement.

We hope others learn from this incident that physical assault is a serious crime, and police should be called through officials channels to deal with it properly.

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