Tanya Lee Stone

Courage Has No Color

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Courage Has No Color Summary

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Courage Has No Color (2013) is the true story of the Triple Nickles, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion—America’s first paratroopers of color. Tanya Lee Stone wrote this book in an effort to shed light on the racial prejudices rampant in the United States and more specifically the military in the 1940s. In addition to the detailed account of racial tension, Courage Has No Color gives a detailed account of these men’s actions during WWII.

The novel opens with a provocative question, “What is it like to jump out of an airplane?” Stone goes on to vividly describe, beat by beat, the sheer terror and adrenaline these soldiers felt every time, at every step. Stone seamlessly begins talking about the Triple Nickles and, more specifically, how whiteness was a requirement to serve as a paratrooper. She tells the story of First Sergeant Walter Morris, a man of color who oversaw a troupe of black guards at the Parachute School at Fort Benning in 1943. Morris saw how the white men were being trained to be paratroopers and knew that if he and his men were to have a chance, they’d have to train and act like soldiers to be treated as such.

Morris took matters into his own hands. When the white soldiers were out training, he would march his men, make them do push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks—he even simulated parachute exercises. He taught his men how to distribute their weight when falling, so as to not injure their knees and ankles. He learned all of these things from closely observing the white soldiers. To his surprise, in a short amount of time, his men had changed. They cared more for their physical presentation, they were motivated, and they finally were given the chance to prove themselves and were succeeding, at least to Morris.

To Morris’s horror, he received word to report to General Ridgely Gaither’s office, a man known for being “tough as nails.” Morris recounts how his nerves wouldn’t allow him to sleep. He didn’t think that what he had done was wrong, but he was a black man stepping outside of his defined role; this was often met with resistance. Stone describes the cultural environment surrounding people of color, not only giving a thorough written history, but also images of authentic anti-black propaganda and advertisements. She talks about stereotypes in movies and how deeply problematic it was. Depicting people of color in slave roles or as illiterate only furthered the divide. It wasn’t until FDR’s “Black Cabinet” pushed to integrate the military that some progress began. However, this prejudice was systemic; although government action was helpful and necessary, these were (and remain) deep seeded beliefs.

So when Morris arrived in Gaither’s office, he didn’t know what to think. Much to his surprise, Gaither was impressed with the work the men had put in. Gaither explains to Morris how the army had recently promoted Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. to Brigadier General, making Davis the highest-ranking person of color in the military. It was a big step towards racial inclusion in the military. But even though legal action was being taken to prevent discrimination, young black men who applied to pilot schools were being turned down or simply ignored. This led to the opening of the Tuskegee Institute’s pilot training program specifically for black pilots.

With the Roosevelt administration on the side of military integration, the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was officially born in January 1944. They called themselves the Triple Nickles—a reference to the Buffalo Soldiers. They trained rigorously and dealt with prejudice at every turn at Fort Benning from white soldiers who didn’t want to be seen with men of color. This prejudice extended beyond soldiers; the Triple Nickles were never permitted to fight abroad. Instead, they were given a top secret mission to put out fires caused by explosives sent by the Japanese in balloons. Most people believe Pearl Harbor to be the only attack on U.S. soil during WWII, when, in fact, Japan was sending explosives inside balloons, that they floated to our shores. The Triple Nickles covertly handled this.

At the end of WWII, the Triple Nickles joined the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg, becoming the first black division to be integrated into a white a division as their dedication and reputation warranted. They truly had become symbols of military inclusion. However, full military integration would not come until 1950. Stone points out that, currently, people of color only make up seventeen percent of soldiers. Additionally, there are only ten black four-star generals, so even today this lack of inclusion is prevalent.

Stone closes the novel by saying that there is still work to be done. Prejudice is an innate human trait, but education and thoughtfulness can supersede that. If we as a people strive to be better and more inclusive, we can make this country a better place for all. The story of the Triple Nickles is intended to uplift. In spite of all odds and history, Sergeant Morris and his men were able to change the military forever. They “proved that the color of a man had nothing to do with his ability”—proof that there will always be hope.