Frank E. Petersen, Jr. was born on this date in 1932. He is an African American Marine Corps pilot and officer (retired) and is a lecturer and administrator.
He was born in Topeka, Kansas, the son of Edythe Southard and Frank Petersen, Sr., and was the second of four children. He was an active, intelligent child who played football in middle school and graduated from Topeka High School in 1949. When he went to sign up for the Navy–something he was very excited to do–he did so well on the exam, that the recruiter made him take the test again. This would be just the first incident of racism that Petersen would have to undergo in the Navy. Despite enduring racism in the Marines, Frank E. Petersen, Jr., became the first black aviator in the United States Marine Corps.
By this point desegregation had hit the military, but racism was rampant. Blacks in the military in the middle of the twentieth century faced the same biases that females did at the end of it. It wasn’t until the Korean War, in fact, that African Americans served in all the different operations of the military and were involved in all major military actions. On October 22, 1952, Petersen was commissioned as a Marine aviation officer, the first African American to become a Marine aviator. Petersen joined the conflict in Korea in 1953. He flew 64 combat missions during the Korean War and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and six other air medals before the Korean War finally came to an end. Flying missions bent on protecting the U.S. troops from the Chinese communists, he was indispensable to the Marines on the ground.