March 2, 1932 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.