Frank Emmanuel Petersen Jr. (USMC) (March 2, 1932 – August 25, 2015) was a United States Marine Corps lieutenant general. He was the first African-American Marine Corps aviator and the first African-American Marine Corps general.
Petersen retired from the Marine Corps in 1988 after 38 years of service. "At the time of his retirement he was by date of aviator designation the senior ranking aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps and the United States Navy with respective titles of 'Silver Hawk' and 'Gray Eagle'. His date of designation as an aviator also precedes all other aviators in the U.S. Air Force and Army."
In 2010, President Obama appointed Petersen to the Board of Visitors to the United States Naval Academy.
Frank E. Petersen was born on March 2, 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. He married Eleanor "Ellie" Burton in 1955, while he was a pilot on rotation for test flights in dropping an atomic bomb and was called for a flight on the night of his wedding. Their marriage ended in divorce, but produced four biological children; Frank E. Petersen III, Gayle Petersen, Linda Pulliam, and Dana Moore. He also had a stepdaughter whom he adopted, Monique Petersen.
Petersen died at his home in Stevensville, Maryland on August 25, 2015 from lung cancer.
U.S. military career
Peterson enlisted in the U.S. Navy in June 1950 as a seaman apprentice and served as an electronics technician. When Petersen aced the Navy's entrance exam, the recruiter told him he would make a "great steward." However, being motivated by the recent Korean War combat death of the Navy’s first black aviator Jesse L. Brown in December, Petersen vowed to be a combat pilot.
In 1951, he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. In October 1952, he completed flight training and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Petersen served a combat tour in the Korean War (1953) and in the Vietnam War (1968). His first tactical assignment was with Marine Fighter Squadron 212 during the Korean War. He would fly over 350 combat missions, and had over 4,000 hours in various fighter/attack aircraft. He held command positions at all levels of Marine Corps aviation, commanding a Marine Fighter Squadron, a Marine Aircraft Group and a Marine Aircraft Wing. He was also the first African-American to command a fighter squadron, a fighter air group, an air wing and a major base.
On February 23, 1979, he was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first African-American general in the Marine Corps. In May 1983, he advanced to the rank of major general and on 12 June 1986, he was promoted to lieutenant general. Petersen relinquished duties as the Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, Virginia on July 8, 1988. He served as the Special Assistant to the Chief of Staff from July 8–31 and retired from the Marine Corps on August 1, 1988. Upon his retirement, he was presented the Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious service as the Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, Virginia, from June 1986 to July 1988.
On November 9, 2016, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus officially announced that an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, DDG-121, would be named in honor of Petersen.
Petersen's military decorations and awards:
|Naval Aviator Badge|
|1st Row||Navy Distinguished Service Medal||Defense Superior Service Medal|
|2nd Row||Legion of Merit w/ Combat "V"||Distinguished Flying Cross||Purple Heart Medal||Meritorious Service Medal|
|3rd Row||Air Medal w/ one 5⁄16" Gold Star and Strike/Flight numeral 10||Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/ Combat "V"||Air Force Commendation Medal||Combat Action Ribbon|
|4th Row||Navy Presidential Unit Citation||Navy Unit Commendation||Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation||National Defense Service Medal w/ one 3⁄16" bronze star|
|5th Row||Korean Service Medal w/ two 3⁄16" bronze stars||Vietnam Service Medal w/ four 3⁄16" bronze stars||Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon||Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation|
|6th Row||Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation w/ palm and frame||Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation w/ palm and frame||United Nations Korea Medal||Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/ 1960- device|
- Petersen, Frank E. (1998). Into the Tiger's Jaw : America's First Black Marine Aviator — The Autobiography of Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen. Presidio Press. ISBN 0-89141-675-7.