Frank E. Petersen, Jr., the first African American Marine Corps aviator and the first African American Marine Corps general, was born in Topeka, Kansas. Petersen enlisted in the United States Navy in 1950 as a seaman apprentice. In 1952, after completing flight training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
Petersen served combat tours in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, flying over 350 combat missions with over 4,000 hours in various flight attack aircraft. He was the first African American to command a fighter squadron, a fighter air group, an air wing, and a major base. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Arts degree in international affairs from George Washington University in 1967 and 1973, respectively.
In 1979, he was promoted to brigadier general, in 1983 to major general, and in 1986 to lieutenant general. Petersen retired from the Marine Corps in 1988. He then managed the corporate aviation fleet for DuPont DeNemours until retiring in 1997. Petersen published his autobiography, “Into the Tiger’s Jaws: America’s First Black Marine Aviator,” in 1998.
And in 2016 the first “cutting of steel” took place on the USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121) a planned United States Navy Arleigh Burke-class Flight IIA guided missile destroyer, the 71st overall for the class. The ship was named for United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General Frank E. Petersen Jr. (March 2, 1932 – August 25, 2015), the first African-American Marine Corps aviator and the first African-American Marine Corps general.
The contract for the ship, along with the name, was first announced in a press release from Huntington Ingalls Industries on 30 March 2016.