Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr., the first black aviator and the first black general in the U.S. Marine Corps, died Tuesday, according to a release Wednesday from the Marine Corps. He was 83.
Gen. Petersen forged a path in his career of firsts not only for other black Marines but for minorities in the military at a time when the Department of Defense was wrestling with desegregation of the armed forces.
He was “a pioneer and role model in many ways, a stellar leader, Marine officer and aviator,” said Gen. John Paxton, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, in a statement.
Originally from Topeka, Kan., Gen. Petersen first enlisted in the Navy in 1950, less than two years after President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the armed forces.
Gen. Petersen soon left the Navy for the Marines and in 1952 was commissioned as an officer after completing flight training. He served combat tours in both Korea and Vietnam and logged more than 350 combat missions. In Korea, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and in Vietnam he received the Purple Heart for wounds sustained after his plane took antiaircraft fire, according to his official biography.
He commanded units throughout the Marine Corps aviation arm and became the first African-American to command a major Marine base. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1979, becoming the first African-American general officer in the Marine Corps. He retired in 1988.
Gen. Petersen is survived by his wife, Alicia, and their four adult children: Monique, Dana, Frank and Lindsey.
Source: Wall Street Journal