BARTOW, Fla. (WFLA) – The name of a trailblazer in both the U.S. military and the Polk County school community will forever be remembered at Bartow’s Union Academy.
“As students switch from class to class, his namesake will be there as a reminder, inspiring them each day to work harder, to strive for more, to serve for others,” said Frederick Heid, Polk County Public Schools superintendent.
Bartow’s Union Academy dedicated the J.J. Corbett Media Center Wednesday, in honor of Jordan Jerome “J.J.” Corbett, 99.
“I hope that I’ve lived the kind of life that this honor could be in my name,” said Corbett.
Corbett was part of the U.S. Army’s first Black paratroopers in the all-Black 555th Parachute Infantry, known as the “Triple Nickle.”
“We were trained as paratroopers to jump and to land on the ground but as Smokejumpers we had to train to jump to land in the trees,” said Corbett.
In World War II, his unit helped dismantle Japanese balloon bombs and fight fires, if the bombs caused any, in the Pacific Northwest.
“We had to learn to jump in the trees and come down on ropes,” he said.
After the military, Corbett spent his career in education, teaching math and coaching track at his alma mater, Union Academy. He also taught and coached at Bartow High School after integration and spent 12 years on the school board.
“Mr. Corbett had such a great impact on a lot of young men that were military-bound,” said Donald Fountain, who graduated in 1967.
Corbett was one of his coaches.
“He was a hard-nose coach but he was gentle. He was instructive whether you were wrong or whether you’re doing something right,” said Fountain.
Corbett’s impact is felt in the present too.
“Every time I think about Mr. Corbett, my heart gets so full,” said school board member Kay Fields.
She told him he was her hero.
“You opened the door for me and others. If you had not stepped out on faith and trusted in God and served on the school board, I might not be here today,” said Fields.
School board member Sarah Fortney said she wants a school named after Corbett.
Corbett has some advice on living a long, meaningful life.
“Keep thinking positive about everything you do. At times you don’t feel like it but just continue to keep a positive mind,” he said.