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Frank E. Petersen

First African American Marine Corps Aviator, first African American Marine Corps general. Born: March 2, 1932, Topeka, Kansas.

Earning his wings in 1952, Frank Petersen was the first African American pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Born in 1932 in Topeka, Petersen saw 64 combat missions during the Korean War and received the Distinguished Flying Cross and six Air Medals. Petersen commanded a squadron of attack fighters in Vietnam and was awarded the Legion of Merit.

In 1979 President Jimmy Carter promoted Petersen to brigadier general, making him the first African American marine general. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1986 and he retired from the Marines in 1988.

Following his retirement, Petersen became a vice president of the Du Pont Company.  He wrote his memoirs, Into the Tiger's Jaw: America's First Black Marine Aviator, in 1998, which described his many experiences, including the hardships of combat and racism within the military.

Entry: Petersen, Frank E.

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: May 2009

Date Modified: September 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.