Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles, America’s First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone. Candlewick Press. 2013. Library copy. YALSA Nonfiction Finalist.
It’s About: During World War II, the US Armed Forces were segregated. This discrimination also included what roles African American men were, and weren’t, allowed.
Combat? No. Cleaning? Yes.
Courage Has No Color is the story of one group of men who challenged and helped change the status quo: the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the “Triple Nickles.”
“What is courage? What is strength? Perhaps it is being ready to fight for your nation even when your nation isn’t ready to fight for you.”
The Good: Courage Has No Color is one of my favorite types of nonfiction stories: it tells a particular, specific story (that of the Triple Nickles) against a bigger story: the integration of the US Armed Forces. It’s a story of both how individuals can make a difference, as well as how organizations work to make change. And it’s about just how big a fight it was, quoting white officer in World War I as saying ”The Negro must be rated as second class material, this due primarily to his inferior intelligence and lack of mental and moral qualifications.”
First Sergeant Walter Morris was in charge of the Service Company of The Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Service Company guarded the facility. “He wanted [the soldiers] ‘to act like soldiers, not servants.’” Morris decided to have his soldiers do what the white soldiers in training did: the physical training. Morale improved. When Morris was ordered to report to the commandant of The Parachute School, he wondered if he would be in trouble. Instead, he found out that an all-black unite of paratroopers was being formed, and that he and the men he had already begun to train would be part of it.
That is the type of history I enjoy: the “bigger picture” of the politicians and groups who were pushing to expand opportunities at the same time that individuals were doing so, also; and how that comes together to create change. That change isn’t quick; and the change isn’t what you’d expect from a fictional story. For example, the Triple Nickles never see active combat during World War II. Instead, they train and train, and then are sent to be smoke-jumpers in the west. Part of the war justification for this was the presence of Japanese balloon bombs. And so the story of the Triple Nickles becomes even more layered.
Courage Has No Color addresses the issues of segregation, and World War II, and the treatment of returning service men; the prejudices of leaders, which meant that people were excluded from medals and honors and parades. And it talks about the changes made, in the military. The Triple Nickles weren’t formed in isolation and there were people and places I wanted to learn more about, like Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., the highest ranking black officer in the Army. And the Tuskegee Airman, and the 761st Tank Battalion.