Frank E. Petersen

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Frank E. Petersen Jr.
LtGenFrankPetersen USMC.jpg
Born (1932-03-02)March 2, 1932
Topeka, Kansas
Died August 25, 2015(2015-08-25) (aged 83)
Stevensville, Maryland
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 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.[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] 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.[8][9]

Petersen died at his home in Stevensville, Maryland on August 25, 2015 from lung cancer.[10][11]

Military career[edit]

When Petersen aced the United States Navy entrance exam in 1950, the recruiter told him he would make a "great steward." [12] However, being motivated by the recent Korean War combat death of Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator, Petersen vowed to be a pilot. After serving as a seaman apprentice, he then served as an electronics technician. In 1951, he entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. After completing flight training, he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1952.

Petersen served 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 would fly a total of 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,[13] 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. 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". 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. ^ Peterson, Frank (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. ^ Matthew L. Schehl (August 28, 2015). "Frank E. Petersen Jr., first black Marine aviator, dies". Retrieved June 17, 2016. 
  9. ^ Adam Bernstein (August 27, 2015). "Frank E. Petersen Jr.: 1st black Marine to pilot a plane — and pin on a star". Retrieved June 17, 2016. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Lieutenant General Frank Petersen dies at 83". The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website. 26 August 2015. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ "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.


  • 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. 

External links[edit]

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