WWII ‘Smokejumper’ honored with media center at Bartow’s Union Academy
BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – The name of a pioneer in the United States military and the Polk County school community will be forever remembered at Bartow’s Union Academy.
“As students transition from class to class, its namesake will be there as a reminder, inspiring them each day to work harder, to strive for more, to serve others,” said Frederick Heid. , Superintendent of Polk County Public Schools.
Bartow’s Union Academy opened the JJ Corbett Media Center on Wednesday, in honor of 99-year-old Jordan Jerome “JJ” Corbett.
“I hope I lived the kind of life that this honor could be in my name,” Corbett said.
Corbett was among the U.S. Army’s first black paratroopers in the all-black 555th Parachute Infantry, known as the “Triple Nickle”.
“We were trained as skydivers to jump and land on the ground, but as Smokejumpers we had to practice jumping to land in trees,” Corbett said.
During World War II, his unit helped dismantle Japanese explosive balloons and fight fires, if the bombs caused them, in the Pacific Northwest.
“We had to learn how to jump in trees and descend on ropes,” he said.
After the Army, Corbett spent his career in education, teaching math and the training track at his alma mater, Union Academy. He also taught and coached at Bartow High School after onboarding and spent 12 years on the school board.
“Mr. Corbett had such a great impact on a lot of young men who were connected with the military,” said Donald Fountain, who graduated in 1967.
Corbett was one of his trainers.
“He was a tough coach but he was gentle. It was instructive to know if you were wrong or if you were doing something right,” Fountain said.
Corbett’s impact is also felt in the present.
“Every time I think of Mr. Corbett, my heart fills so much,” said school board member Kay Fields.
She told him he was her hero.
“You have opened the door for me and others. If you hadn’t exercised faith, trusted God, and served on the school board, I might not be here today,” Fields said.
School board member Sarah Fortney said she wanted a school named after Corbett.
Corbett has some tips for living a long and meaningful life.
“Keep thinking positively about everything you do. Sometimes you don’t feel like it, but just keep being positive,” he said.