Frank E. Petersen, the first black general in the Marines, died at the age of 83 at his home in Stevensville, Maryland.
Gen. Petersen’s wife, Alicia, confirmed that the cause of his death was lung cancer. Frank E. Petersen had an illustrious, 38-year long military career, and he was the first African-American Marine Corps aviator, as well as the first African-American Marine Corps general. He served as a United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General up until his retirement from the Marines in 1988.
However, at the age of 78, President Barack Obama appointed Gen. Petersen to the Board of Visitors at the United States Naval Academy.
Speaking about becoming the first black Marine Crops general, Gen. Petersen explained, “Just to be able to say you kicked down another door was a great satisfaction.” However, he insisted that it came with its own set of pressure and challenges. General Peterson continued, “Whereas you thought you could perform before, now you must perform.”
On the way to his many triumphs in the military, Petersen had to withstand a barrage of racial abuse. This was especially the case during the early stages of his career in the 1950s. According to the New York Times, this included being “arrested at an officers’ club on suspicion of impersonating a lieutenant.”
Frank Petersen’s rise came at a time of great unrest within the armed forces as minorities began to rise to higher and higher ranks while the Department Of Defense fought the desegregation of its military.
Upon news of his death, a cavalcade of tributes was offered about Gen. Petersen. Gen. John Paxton, who was the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, released a statement via the Wall Street Journal, which called him a “pioneer and role model in many ways, a stellar leader, Marine officer and aviator.”
Gen. Petersen was born on March 2, 1932, in Topeka, Kansas to a former sugarcane plantation worker from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Gen. Petersen originally enlisted in the Navy in 1950, which was only 24 months after President Truman had ordered its desegregation.
Life was immediately tough for Gen. Petersen, who was ordered to retake his Navy entrance exam again by his recruiter after it was suspected that he’d cheated originally. Gen. Petersen joined the Marines in 1952, and he logged over 350 combat missions during the Korean War and the war in Vietnam. Because of his efforts, Gen. Petersen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Purple Heart, while he also became the first African America to command a major Marine base.
Gen. Petersen leaves behind his wife, Alicia, as well as their four children; Monique, Dana, Frank, and Lindsey.
[Image via Wikimedia/ERCheck]