(Christian Science Monitor) – The US Marine Corps’ first African-American aviator, who broke multiple color barriers on his way to becoming the military branch’s first African-American general, died on Tuesday.
Retired Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen Jr., from Topeka, Kan., served two years in the US Navy before being commissioned in the Marine Corps in 1952 as a second lieutenant, making him the first African-American aviator in the Marines. In 1979 he was promoted to brigadier general, once again becoming the first African-American to serve the Marines in such a capacity. He eventually retired in 1988 as the commanding general of the Combat Development Command of the Marines, located in Quantico, Va., the senior ranking aviator for both the Marines and the Navy.
A father of four, he died in his home from complications relating to illness.
Despite his career breaking color barriers, his wife, Alicia, said that he didn’t see himself as a trailblazer. Speaking to the Topeka Capital Journal from their Maryland home on Wednesday, she described her husband as a “quiet giant” and an approachable source of mentorship who during his career helped craft policies to promote equality within the Marine Corps.