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Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr.

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Information about Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr.

Profile image of Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr.

Profession

Category:
MilitaryMakers
Occupation(s):
Lieutenant General (Retired)

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
U.S. Virgin Islands
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/2/1932
Birth Location:
Topeka, Kansas

Profession

Category:
MilitaryMakers
Occupation(s):
Lieutenant General (Retired)

Favorites

Favorite Color:
Blue
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Summer
Favorite Vacation Spot:
U.S. Virgin Islands
Favorite Quote:
None

Birthplace

Born:
3/2/1932
Birth Location:
Topeka
See how Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Marine Corps Lieutenant General Frank Emmanuel Petersen, Jr. was born on March 2, 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. His spelling of Petersen is popular amongst his paternal relatives in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. A maternal ancestor, Archie McKinney served in the 55th Regiment of Massachusetts Infantry during the Civil War. His parents, Frank E. Petersen, Sr., a radio repairman, and Edythe Southard Petersen, met at the University of Kansas. Petersen grew up in South Topeka and attended Monroe Elementary School, the gifted program of Boswell Junior High School, where his classmate was the former University of North Carolina head basketball coach Dean Smith. He graduated from Topeka High School in 1949. Briefly attending Washburn College, Petersen joined the United States Navy in 1950. He entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1951 and in 1952 after finishing flight training as the first black Marine aviator, was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps (USMC). Petersen later received his B.A. degree in 1967 and his M.A. degree in international affairs in 1973, both at George Washington University. He also graduated from the National War College in 1973.

Assigned briefly to El Toro, California, Petersen was assigned to Korea in 1953. There, he flew Chance Vaught F4U Corsairs on 64 combat missions with Marine Fighter Squadron 212 out of the K-6 Airfield in Pyong-Taek to the Yalu River. He earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and six air medals. In the 1960s, Petersen experienced the transition from propeller driven fighters to jets like the Lockheed T-33B Seastar, the Gruman F9F Cougar and the Douglas F3D Skynight. In 1968, Petersen became the first African American to command a squadron when he took over Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314 (VMFA-314), the Black Knights, in Vietnam. VFMA-314 received the 1968 Hanson Award for best squadron in the USMC. Shot down but rescued in the DMZ, Petersen added 250 combat missions to his Korean total. He eventually commanded a Marine Aircraft Group and a Marine Aircraft Wing. In 1975, Petersen took command of Marine Air Corps 32 at Cherry Point, North Carolina and in 1979 became the first African American General in USMC history. Petersen was made Lieutenant General in 1986 and was appointed Commanding General of the USMC Combat Development Command at Quantico, Virginia. When he retired in 1988, Petersen was the first black three star general in the USMC and the “Silver Hawk” and “Gray Eagle” senior and ranking aviator in both the USMC and the Navy. He was awarded still another Distinguished Service Medal for his command services at Quantico.

Petersen spent his civilian years as vice president of corporate aviation for DuPont DeNemours, Inc. Managing their corporate fleet, he traveled the globe, retiring in 1997.

Petersen was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 7, 2007.

Petersen passed away on August 25, 2015. He is survived by five children.

See how Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr.'s interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. lists his favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his mother's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his mother's upbringing in Kansas
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his father's family background
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his parents' personalities
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his earliest childhood memory
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes the sights, sounds and smells of his childhood
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his childhood in Topeka, Kansas
  • Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his early entertainment
  • Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. remembers Monroe Elementary School in Topeka, Kansas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. remembers Boswell Junior High School in Topeka, Kansas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls enlisting in the U.S. Navy
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. remembers the death of Jesse L. Brown
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. talks about his childhood wish to leave Kansas
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his experiences at Topeka High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his flight training in the U.S. Marine Corps
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his commission as an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his service in the Korean War
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his flight missions in the Korean War
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his recognition as a black pilot
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls learning to fly jet airplanes
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls the Brown v. Board of Education decision
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his involvement in the First Indochina War
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. remembers forming contrails with planes
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his marriage
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls petitioning to command a fighter squadron
  • Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. remembers the Vietnam War
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes race relations among soldiers in the Vietnam War
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. reflects upon the legacy of the Vietnam War
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. reflects upon his combat experiences in the Vietnam War
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls investigating racial conflict in the U.S. military
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes the perspectives of black soldiers in the Vietnam War
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his promotion to general in the U.S. Marine Corps
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. recalls his vice presidency of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his duties at E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. remembers writing his autobiography
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. talks about his organizational activities
  • Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. reflects upon the Iraq War
  • Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community
  • Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. reflects upon his life and legacy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. talks about prominent black military leaders
  • Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes his family
  • Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. describes how he would like to be remembered