Monday, April 15, 2013

Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone

This emotional story had me in a free fall from start to end. Tension is inherent when covering black history, but when you throw in jumping out of an airplane to a reader like myself who is afraid of heights, the result is a confetti of fingernails in my reading chair. The Triple Nickles were the first trained black paratroopers during the 1940's under Sergeant Walter Morris. Originally, Morris was in charge of 20 men who were guarding The Parachute School at Fort Benning, Georgia. He noticed that his men were not proud of their work so he began training them in a calisthenics routine that was the same as the white soldiers. His men responded by feeling valued and started "acting like soldiers." General Gaither noticed and called Morris into his office where Morris learned of Gaither's order to create an all-black unit of paratroopers, the 555th Parachute Infantry Company. Morris was assigned the task, and excelled as a leader in both training and mental toughness against prejudices.

It wasn't easy. Morris was breaking new ground. His men were isolated and denied basic rights such as where to sit in the cafeteria, on the bus, going to the canteen, going to the post's theater, and more. Even prisoners of war were not denied these rights. The black paratroopers did comment that their white instructors, who were from the South, did not express prejudices toward them and showed them respect. The author addresses why these black men decided to fight for a country that would not claim them as their own. The men said that they wanted to prove they could succeed by not reacting to prejudices. Succeed, they did and those that weren't prejudice took note helping to change popular opinions on the black man's plight.

They also succeeded in raising American conscientiousness. America was fighting in a war against the genocidal racist, Hitler, while on their own soil they had a culture of black discrimination. World War II was a turning point in popular views advocating for African-Americans human rights. Unfortunately, even today there is still discrimination, as the author notes, found in popular movies made on history of World War II where blacks are not given credit for their military service. For instance, the movie "Saving Private Ryan," doesn't give credit to the all-black unit that was critical to saving a group of white men surrounded in a German town.

This informational text is pretty straightforward with photos, chapter headings, subheadings and a one-sentence summary pulled out of the text and put in bold. The addition of primary advertisements and cartoons enrich the reading experience immensely. I particularly enjoyed them. I actually wanted more ancillary text like that. The Japanese balloon story was fascinating. How the heck have I not heard about it before! I would have liked a side bar on it. I also liked the additional information the author puts in the end titled, "The Story Within the Story," but I would have liked it inserted where the text was that covered the three paratroopers who dropped out. What I'm not sure is if this is a decision made by the author or if it is a decision made by the publisher. The title bothered me too. (*spoiler - don't read the following) I kept waiting for them to go into combat and when they don't, I felt letdown. I'm not sure how it could have been done differently. (end spoiler) Either way, this is a well-told story that is worth reading.

4 Smileys

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