Navy Destroyer Named for 1st Black Marine Corps Aviator

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (with red tie), poses with family members and friends of the late Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr., during a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., on Nov. 9. (US Marine Corps photo/Jason Jimenez)
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus (with red tie), poses with family members and friends of the late Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr., during a ceremony at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, N.C., on Nov. 9. (US Marine Corps photo/Jason Jimenez)

TOPEKA, Kan. -- A U.S. Navy destroyer has been named in honor of a Topeka three-star general who became the first black aviator, first black general and first black base commander in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, which is under construction, would bear the name of Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr., according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. The warship's hull number will be DDG 121.

Petersen enlisted in the Navy in 1950, and left in 1952 to accept a commission as a second lieutenant and become the first black pilot in the Marine Corps. He flew over 350 combat missions and more than 4,000 military aircraft hours throughout the Korean and Vietnam wars.

"The courage and perseverance of Lt. Gen. Petersen throughout his distinguished and ground-breaking career make him especially deserving of this honor," Mabus said in his Nov. 9 announcement. "Those who serve aboard DDG 121 will, for decades, carry on the storied legacy of this Marine Corps hero."

Petersen retired in 1988 as the senior aviator on active duty in the U.S. military, and died in 2015 at the age of 83. He received multiple awards for his service, including the Purple Heart, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal and Legion of Merit with Valor Device.

The Purple Heart resulted from a mission into North Vietnamese airspace, where Petersen suffered multiple serious injuries. He continued to fly about 240 missions with those injuries.

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

Construction of the USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. began April 27 in Pascagoula, Miss. It is expected to enter the Navy fleet in 2020.

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