Frank E. Petersen

Frank Emmanuel Petersen Jr. (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.[3]

Frank E. Petersen Jr.
Portrait of U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant General Frank E. Petersen Jr.jpg
Born(1932-03-02)March 2, 1932
Topeka, Kansas
DiedAugust 25, 2015(2015-08-25) (aged 83)
Stevensville, Maryland
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branchUnited States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Years of service1950-1952 (USN), 1952-1988 (USMC)
RankLieutenant general
Commands held1st Marine Aircraft Wing
Battles/warsKorean War
Vietnam War
AwardsDistinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Legion of Merit with Combat "V"
Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart Medal
Other workDuPont DeNemours Inc., VP of Corporate Aviation
National Marrow Donor Program, Chairman[1][2]

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."[4]

In 2010, President Obama appointed Petersen to the Board of Visitors to the United States Naval Academy.[5]

U.S. military careerEdit

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."[6] 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 VMFA-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.[1]

On February 23, 1979, he was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first African-American general in the Marine Corps.[7] 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 would be named in honor of Petersen.[8] On February 21, 2017, the keel was laid for the future guided-missile destroyer USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. at Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard, Pascagoula, Mississippi.

The Navy said that the ship "will be built in the Flight IIA configuration with the Aegis Baseline 9 Combat System which includes integrated air and missile defense capability. This system delivers quick reaction time, high firepower, and increased electronic countermeasures capability for anti-air warfare".[citation needed]

Later lifeEdit

Frank Petersen died at his home in Stevensville, Maryland, on August 25, 2015, from lung cancer.[9][10] Petersen left behind his wife Alicia Petersen and children Gayle, Frank, Dana Moore, Lyndsay Pulliam and Monique. In 1998, Peterson wrote an autobiography with J Alfred Phelps, Into the Tigers Jaw.[9]

Military awardsEdit

Petersen's military decorations and awards include:[11][4]

Badge Naval Aviator Badge
1st Row Navy Distinguished Service Medal
2nd Row Defense Superior Service Medal Legion of Merit w/ Combat "V" Distinguished Flying Cross Purple Heart Medal
3rd Row Meritorious Service Medal Air Medal w/ one golden award numeral 1, 516" Silver Star and Strike/Flight numeral 10 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 316" bronze star
5th Row Korean Service Medal w/ two ​316" bronze stars Vietnam Service Medal w/ four ​316" 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

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "News Release: Marine Corps Gen. Frank Petersen to Speak at Embry-Riddle Commencement03/12/04". Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. April 23, 1999. Archived from the original on 2003-09-04. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  2. ^ "NMDP Names General Frank E. Petersen Jr. as Board Chair". National Marrow Donor Program. July 22, 1999. Archived from the original on 2007-11-10. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  3. ^ *Williams, Rudi (February 6, 2004). "Marine Corps' Magnetism Beckons Future General into World of Elite Warfighters". DefenseLINK News. U.S. Department of Defense. Archived from the original on 2006-10-14. Retrieved 2006-10-15.
  4. ^ a b "Official Marine Corps biography". Archived from the original on 2011-06-15. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  5. ^ The White House Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release September 16, 2010.
  6. ^ Bernstein, Adam (2015-08-26). "Frank Petersen Jr., first black Marine Corps pilot and general, dies at 83". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2016-01-07.
  7. ^ "This week in Black history.(Col. Frank E. Petersen Jr. became the first Black promoted to the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Marines)". Jet. February 27, 2006. Retrieved 2008-08-18.
  8. ^ "Secretary Mabus Names Newest Arleigh-Burke Class Destroyer". U.S. Department of Defense. November 9, 2016. Retrieved November 12, 2016.
  9. ^ a b Roberts, Sam (August 26, 2015). "Frank E. Petersen, First Black General in Marines, Dies at 83". Retrieved January 13, 2019 – via
  10. ^ "Lieutenant General Frank Petersen dies at 83". The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website. August 26, 2015.
  11. ^ "Montford Point Marine Asso Inc - Home". Retrieved 13 January 2019.


  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Army Center of Military History.

  This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.


External linksEdit

  • "Frank Petersen". National Visionary Leadership Project. Retrieved 2008-08-18.