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Lt. Col. John Mann Sr., “Triple Nickles” Paratrooper. (YouTube)

Lt. Col. John Mann Sr., a highly decorated, 33-year veteran of the United States Army and a founding member of the “Triple Nickles,” the defense branch’s first and only all-Black parachute battalion, was laid to rest Dec. 18 during funeral services at Zion Baptist Church on the 1700 block of North Caroline Street in Baltimore.

Mann died Dec. 12 of congestive heart failure at Manor Care Ruxton. He was 89.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. William “Kip” Ward and former U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg and the Netherlands Kingdon Gould Jr., a fellow soldier and lifelong friend, both offered remarks at the service which “celebrat a life well lived.”

The longtime resident of Pikesville, Md., served as a Special Forces advisor and a battalion commander in Vietnan. And as a paratrooper in the Triple Nickles, he made 168 jumps over a period of 17 years of airborne service. Mann also worked in government and education and was a published novelist.

Mann was born March 24, 1926, in Camden, S.C., to Otis Mann, a farmer, and Helen Mann, an activist.

He graduated from Camden’s Mather Academy in 1944, was drafted into the Army shortly afterwards at age 18. He was sent to Fort McClellan, a segregated training facility manned by White officers in Alabama.

After completing basic training, Mann was appointed as a cadre or drill sergeant, training other troops for combat. After returning home from Europe after World War II ended in 1945, he was transferred to Fort Benning, Ga., the home of the Airborne School. 

It was there Mann developed his fascination with the duties of the parachute unit and where he saw a Black paratrooper for the first time.

“And looking at the wings, and the boots and so forth really made me crave…this was something I really wanted to do,” said Mann during an interview as part of the National Visionary Leader Project Oral History Archive. “I guess I felt as if I had something to prove—if they were doing it, I’d like to do it. It’s dangerous, but I’d still like to do it.”

Military Life Photos from Obituary

That’s why, instead of accepting his discharge from the Army in 1947, he re-enlisted for airborne duty with the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, known as the Triple Nickles.

Although Mann was not a member of the Triple Nickles’ inaugural units, he served with the organization before it was integrated into the 82nd Airborne Division and became the 3rd  Battalion, 505th Airborne Infantry Regiment.

Shortly after the start of the Korean War in June 1950, Mann was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky., and promoted to a company first sergeant at age 24. After he was sent into combat in the Asian conflict, he received a direct commission as a second lieutenant.

In the waning months of the Korean War, Mann was given command of a company in the 3rd Infantry Division, which saw considerable action. On his return stateside in 1953, he was awarded his first Bronze Star and re-assigned to the 11th Airborne Division.

While serving on a peace-keeping mission during the Cold War in Germany, Mann was sent to Lebanon in 1958 and promoted to captain.

After completing special forces and counter-insurgency training, Mann was assigned to 1st Special Forces Group (Abn) on Okinawa, and sent as a detachment commander to Vietnam to train militia and to establish a camp in Bien Dinh Province.

Mann returned to Vietnam in 1968 and served on the Division Staff in the 25th Infantry Division and later as battalion commander. He saw considerable combat and earned numerous medals and commendations for his valor in battle.

After his service in Vietnam, Mann returned to a job in the Pentagon as an executive officer in the Warsaw Pact division (DIA) until 1973. He was next sent to The Netherlands to serve as commander of the American Army troops assigned to Allied Forces Central Europe headquarters. Mann returned to the U.S. in 1977 and finished his last year of service at Fort Lesley J. McNair in Washington, D.C., before retiring as a lieutenant colonel.

Throughout his military career, Mann amassed more than 30 U.S. and foreign decorations, including the Silver Star, three Legions of Merit, three Bronze Stars, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Army Commendation Medal, six awards of The Air Medal and several more.

After leaving his military service, Mann was appointed county personnel officer for Prince George’s County, Md., from 1979-1981, before taking a position as business manager of Glenelg Country School in Howard County. He retired again in 1991.

LTC John Mann-Author – Obituary Photos

Upon retirement, Mann nurtured his lifelong pursuit of writing—while in the Army he published articles in several national magazines and newspapers. Beginning in 2003, he published four fiction novels based on the fictional character, Joe Kepper, a former paratrooper, turned police detective: “The Search for Rosita” (2003), “Peril in Parksdale” (2004), “Angelo’s Guest” (2007), and “Early Joe Kepper” (2009).

Mann is survived by: his wife, Jean; sons, Rev. John E. Mann Jr., Stuart Adams (Deidra) and Rev. Scott Adams (Tanya); daughters, Helen Mann Williams and Patricia Mann Quarles; grandchildren, Dorrien Mann, Tricia Goodman (Douglass), Grace Nix, Randall Adams, Harrison Adams, Stuart Adams II and Ray Owensby; great-grandchildren, Darren Moulden, Michael Goodman, Gabrielle Goodman, Kimani Nix, Richardo Duplechan and many relatives and friends.