555th Parachute Infantry Historic Marker
Cave Junction Oregon
The 555th Story
The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion was a segregated military unit of African-American soldiers assigned to a secret operation in Oregon during the 1945-1946 Japanese balloon bomb attack on the United States. The 555th represents a World War Two home-front defense story that took place during a hostile attack on American soil by a foreign enemy.
The Japanese released about 9,000 balloons during this, each 30 feet in diameter with 4-5 incendiary bombs. These were carried from Japan to the United States in high altitude winds (jet streams) where the balloons randomly released bombs to start forest fires. The 555th soldiers were trained by the Forest Service to work as smokejumpers and are the only military unit in American history to work as aerial firefighters.
One of the 555th soldiers died on a fire jump near Roseburg and became the first smokejumper death in American history.
Malvin Brown Historic Marker Nomination (5.9mb pdf)
Smokejumper Museum, Illinois Valley Airport – four and a half miles south of Cave Junction, Oregon.
From Interstate 5: Get off the freeway at Exit 55 (beginning of Highway 199) and travel about 30 miles to Cave Junction. Continue another four and a half miles past Cave Junction and look for the entrance sign for the Siskiyou Smokejumper Museum on the right immediately after the road opens into four lanes. Follow Smokejumper Way to the historic smokejumper base and look for the historic marker on the left.
From Highway 101: From Crescent City, drive three miles north on Highway 101 and turn on to Highway 199. Drive for about 35 miles to cross the Oregon border and five miles more you come to O’Brien, the first flashing yellow light you will see on Highway 199. Continue another three miles to where the road crosses the bridge over Rough & Ready Creek and widens into four lanes. Look for the entrance sign for the Siskiyou Smokejumper Museum on the left just before the road narrows from four to two lanes. There is no turning lane here so use caution for fast moving traffic behind you when slowing to make the turn. Follow Smokejumper Way to the historic smokejumper base and look for the historic marker on the left.
Pilot Fly-in information
Illinois Valley Airport Information: Fuel, parking, pilot camping, etc
If you plan to fly in and visit the 555th historic marker the Siskiyou Smokejumper Museum or the Smokejumper Heritage Tree be aware that there are no food services at the airport. Camping is available but it is advised you bring food for evening meals. There is only one taxi in Cave Junction: Lil Green Taxi: 541 415-0535 (last updated June 2017).
If you want to get out and stretch your legs, you can go to the south end of the airport and visit Rough and Ready Forest Botanical Area. To get to this area from the museum, follow the entrance road and after exiting the airport entrance gate, turn to the right and follow the airport fence for about a half mile to the botanical area. The wheelchair access trail starts at the botanical area parking lot and takes you to a vista point with picnic table. If you want to walk to Seats Dam (good swimming on a hot day), follow the abandoned road for about a mile (hint: follow the water ditch up stream to the dam). The Siskiyou Smokejumper Museum has guided tours or you can take the self-guided tour around the grounds.