About the 320th
The story of the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion begins in 1941, when the U.S. Army began training soldiers to fly the newest defensive weapon: balloons. The gasbags formed an aerial barrage — a miles-wide curtain in the sky — designed to protect important installations from attack by enemy planes. The balloons forced enemy pilots to fly higher, fouling the aim of their bombs. A hapless pilot who snagged the cable that attached the balloon to the earth risked losing a wing or becoming ensnared, as if caught in a spider’s web. If that happened, the plane would stall and crash. The balloons that went to war packed an extra punch: small bombs that could blow a hole in the fuselage or ignite the gas tank.
The Army built a balloon training camp in a quiet corner of northwestern Tennessee. Thousands of men passed through Camp Tyson during the war, learning to fly the balloons, whose nicknames ranged from "rubber cows" to "sentinels of the sky.” Among them were only four units of African Americans. The Army, like much of the United States, was segregated by race. The men of the 320th trained as combat soldiers. They were expected to land on a blood-soaked battlefield and fight. And they did exactly that.