Sergeant Jordan Corbett - US Army Veteran - WWII - Bartow, FL

Mr. Corbett has had a very unique and interesting life both in and out of uniform. A Florida native and veteran of WWII he was a member of the all black 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment known as the “Triple Nickels”. Barred from combat through a segregated Army and experiencing the sting of racism. Mr. Corbett nevertheless served his country with honor as a “Smoke Jumper” in the Pacific Northwest trained to fight forest fires as a result of the once secret Japanese balloon bomb attempts. After WWII and graduation from college, Mr. Corbett dedicated his life to teach and coaching.

Once again he found himself in a segregated world and taught in an all black high school until 1969 when desegregation finally occurred. Mr. Corbett could easily have chosen a path of bitterness and resentment, but instead he used his experiences to positively influence hundreds of young people and inspire them through personal example. Mr. Corbett has been an invaluable and influential member of the community, an outstanding role model, and is revered by young and old, black and white.

Mr. Corbett has received local, state, and national acclaim for his legendary high school track and field championship teams, his role in education and community service, and his unique military experience in WWII. In short, Mr. J. J. Corbett is a prime example of selfless service to his hometown of Bartow, Polk County, the State of Florida, and our Nation.

Education and Training Accomplishments

Mr. Corbett was born November 25, 1922 in Pierce, Florida. He graduated from Union Academy High School in Bartow in 1942. He initially enrolled in Bethune-Cookman University on a football scholarship but was drafted into the U.S. Army during his freshman year. After completing his military service in WWII he entered North Carolina A & T College where he graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Specialist Degree in Mathematics. During his teaching career Mr. Corbett also completed a course of instruction at Boston College specializing in Science.

Professional and Employment History

Upon graduating from college Mr. Corbett began a 30 year career in high school teaching and coaching. From 1950 until 1969 he served at the all black Union Academy High School in Bartow, Florida. Following desegregation he transferred to Bartow High School where he served as Physical Education Instructor, Chairman of the Mathematics Department, Assistant Football Coach, Head Track and Field Coach and Head Cross Country Coach. Mr. Corbett retired in 1980.

Nominees Advocacy on Behalf of Veterans

Mr. Corbett is currently one of only three surviving members of the all Black 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion known as the “Triple Nickels”. Because of the racial prejudice within the Army and segregation in the country at the time, and although they trained as part of the 82nd Airborne, the 555th was not allowed into combat but was sent to the Pacific Northwest to train as “smoke jumpers” in order to combat forest fires sparked by the Japanese balloon bombs. Mr. Corbett has been a regular speaker at local, state, and national events detailing the racial segregation found in the military during WWII. Despite the injustice he endured, Mr. Corbett has used his experience to educate people and to share the story of the patriotic call of African-American personnel during the war. His biggest disappointment was not being allowed into combat, but he remains very positive about his experience and delights in educating veterans and people of all ages and color about the accomplishments and sacrifice of his generation of Black soldiers. He is a life member of the 555th Parachute Infantry Association and participates regularly in their annual reunions.

Civic Activities and Contributions

Mr. Corbett has served the City of Bartow and Polk County in a wide variety of activities and is one of the most highly respected members of the community. He was the second African – American elected to the Polk County School Board where he served 3 consecutive terms for 12 years. He served as Chairman and member of the Board of Directors of the United Way of Central Florida; founding member Mid-Florida Federal Credit Union Board of Directors; Citrus and Chemical Bank Board of Directors; Board of Directors Big Brothers and Big Sisters; Board of Directors, Goodwill of Polk Country; Chairman, Recreation Advisory Committee, City of Bartow; member City of Bartow Community Relations Committee; member, Board of Stewards and Trustees, St. James and Gregg Ann AME Churches. Personally received official recognition in the Florida House of Representatives on February 4, 2016.

Awards and Honors

While serving as the Head Track and Field Coach at Bartow High School Mr. Corbett team’s won 3 State Championships in 1968, 1969, and 1977 for which he was twice named the State of Florida Class B Track Coach of the Year and nominated for the National Track Coach of the Year. He was elected to the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Bartow High School Hall of Fame. Following his retirement in 1980 the annual J. J. Corbett Invitational Track Meet was founded and named in his honor. Mr. Corbett also received the Bartow American Legend Award in 2005 and was a recipient of the Bartow Rotary Community Service Award. He was awarded the 2013 Man of Valor Education Award by the Polk County School Board and received the 2008 Bartow Chamber of Commerce Spirt of Bartow Award. He was named the 2010 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment Man of the Year and received the award from GEN David Petreaus. He was recognized by the Polk County Board of Commissioners with “JJ Corbett Day” on February 2, 2016 and by the City of Bartow for “Jordon ‘JJ” Corbett Week” February 7-13 2016. He personally appeared before the Florida House of Representatives on February 4, 2016
where he was formally recognized for his WWII service and his career in education afterwards.

Mr. Corbett dedicated his life to teaching and coaching young men and women in hopes of making them better citizens and fulfill their full potential in life. He has been an inspiration to every one who knows him and he is a true “hero” of his native Florida. He served his country in WWII with distinction but in a time when racial injustice prevailed both in the military and in society. However, Mr. Corbett has never expressed resentment or bitterness toward his treatment during those years. Instead, he has used his experience in WWII and in all Black unit in so many positive ways during his teaching career and in his retirement in an effort to promote diversity and equality throughout his community. In the city of Bartow he was a leader in the transition from the all segregated schools of the 1960’s to the all inclusive and fully integrated schools we now enjoy. Mr. Corbett never sought fame or recognition for any of his accomplishments. He only wanted to ensure that young people had a chance in life and that he left his town, his state, and his nation a better place than what he experienced growing up in a racially divided world. He is a legendary figure on and off the field of athletics and known for his calm demeanor, quiet confidence, and selfless service to his community. Mr. Corbett is a true gentleman and role model who has impacted the lives of so many people and words simply cannot express the impact he has had on his community nor how much he is respected and loved by all. Although his record speaks for itself, it is Mr Corbett’s intangible character and human experience, not his written resume, that warrants his selection to the FVHOF.