Destroyer Will Bear the Name of Marines’ First African-American Aviator


By Debbie Gregory.

A U.S. Navy destroyer warship that is under construction has been named in honor of a Topeka three-star general who became the first African-American aviator, general and base commander in the Marine Corps.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, DDG 121, will be named for Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr.

Petersen enlisted in the Navy in June, 1950.  In October 1952, he completed flight training and accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Petersen served a combat tour in the Korean War (1953) and in the Vietnam War (1968).

Petersen’s first tactical assignment was with Marine Fighter Squadron 212 during the Korean War. He would fly over 350 combat missions, and had over 4,000 hours in various fighter/attack aircraft. He held command positions at all levels of Marine Corps aviation, commanding a Marine Fighter Squadron, a Marine Aircraft Group and a Marine Aircraft Wing.

“The courage and perseverance of Lt. Gen. Petersen throughout his distinguished and groundbreaking career make him especially deserving of this honor,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. “Those who serve aboard DDG 121 will, for decades, carry on the storied legacy of this Marine Corps hero.”

Petersen retired after 38 years of service in 1988 as the senior aviator on active duty in the U.S. military. Highly decorated, Petersen received multiple awards for his service including the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal and the Legion of Merit with Valor Device.

In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Petersen to the Board of Visitors to the U.S. Naval Academy. The board monitors morale and instruction.

Petersen died in 2015 at the age of 83.

Construction of the USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. began April 27 at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Pascagoula,Mississippi. The ship will be 509 feet long, have a beam length of 59 feet and be capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots. It is expected to enter the Navy fleet in 2020.

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