Frank E. Petersen

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Frank E. Petersen Jr.
LtGenFrankPetersen USMC.jpg
Born (1932-03-02) March 2, 1932 (age 83)
Topeka, Kansas
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Navy
United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1950-1952 (USN), 1952-1988 (USMC)
Rank Lieutenant General
Commands held VMFA-212
Battles/wars Korean War
Vietnam War
Awards Distinguished Service Medal
Defense Superior Service Medal
Legion of Merit with Combat "V"
Distinguished Flying Cross
Purple Heart
Other work DuPont DeNemours Inc., VP of Corporate Aviation
National Marrow Donor Program, Chairman[1][2]

Frank E. Petersen Jr. (USMC) (born March 2, 1932) is a retired United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General. He was the first African-American Marine Corps aviator and the first African-American Marine Corps general.[3]

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]

Personal life[edit]

Frank E. Petersen was born on March 2, 1932 in Topeka, Kansas.[6] 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.[7]

Military career[edit]

Petersen enlisted in the United States Navy in 1950 as a seaman apprentice. He served as an electronics technician. In 1951, he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. In 1952, after completing flight training he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

Petersen served two combat tours in two wars, Korea (1953) and Vietnam (1968). His first tactical assignment was with Marine Fighter Squadron 212 during the Korean War. He flew over 350 combat missions and 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,[8] he was promoted to brigadier general, becoming the first African-American general in the Marine Corps. 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.


Petersen's decorations include:[4]

Naval Aviator Badge.jpg
Gold star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Naval Aviator Badge
1st Row Navy Distinguished Service Medal Defense Superior Service Medal
2nd Row Legion of Merit w/ valor device Distinguished Flying Cross Purple Heart Meritorious Service Medal
3rd Row Air Medal w/ 1 award star &Strike/Flight numeral "10" Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal w/ valor device 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/ 1 service star
5th Row Korean Service Medal w/ 2 service stars Vietnam Service Medal w/ 4 service stars Navy Sea Service Deployment Ribbon Korean Presidential Unit Citation
6th Row Vietnam Gallantry Cross unit citation Vietnam Civil Actions unit citation United Nations Korea Medal Vietnam Campaign Medal

See also[edit]


  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. Retrieved 2008-08-18. 
  2. ^ "NMDP NamesGeneral Frank E. Petersen Jr. as Board Chair". National Marrow Donor Program. July 22, 1999. 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". Retrieved 2008-08-18. 
  5. ^ The White House Office of the Press Secretary For Immediate Release September 16, 2010.
  6. ^ Gubert, Betty Kaplan; Sawyer, Miriam; Fannin, Caroline M. (2002). Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 231–. ISBN 9781573562461. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  7. ^ Jr., Frank Peterson (2013-04-22). Into the Tiger's Jaw: America's First Black Marine Aviator. Naval Institute Press. pp. 118–. ISBN 9781612511917. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 
  8. ^ "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. 


 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 links[edit]

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