Frank Peterson, the U.S. Marines’ first Black pilot, has died at age 83.
Hoping to escape pervasive racism in his Kansas hometown, General Frank Petersen joined the U.S. Navy in 1950 as a seaman apprentice, reports The Boston Globe.
The following year, motivated by the death of the Navy’s first Black aviator Jesse Brown in the Korean War, Peterson entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program, the report says. From there, he went on to make history himself, earning a Purple Heart for wounds suffered in Vietnam “when he was ejected after his plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire over the demilitarized zone” in 1968.
He died Tuesday at his home in Stevensville, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The cause was complications from lung cancer, according to The Globe:
President Harry S. Truman had ordered the armed forces to desegregate in 1948, but General Petersen later wrote that the Navy and Marine Corps were ‘‘the last to even entertain the idea of integrating their forces.’’ And whenever he left the flight training base in Pensacola, Fla., he was subjected to the indignities of the Jim Crow South.
Bus drivers ordered him to the back of the coach, and he was barred from sitting with white cadets in restaurants and movie theaters. He largely swallowed the treatment, he later told The Washington Post, because he could not fight two battles at once. ‘‘I knew that I couldn’t win if I were to tackle that, as opposed to getting my wings,’’ he said.
One instructor tried to minimize his performance in the air — giving him lackluster ratings — but he said white peers came to his defense. Upon completion of his flight training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He flew 64 combat missions in Korea in 1953 and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other decorations.
Besides his wife, Alicia Downes, of Stevensville, Maryland and Washington, he leaves behind four children from his first marriage, a brother, a sister, four grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
Rest in peace and thank you, Gen. Peterson.
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SOURCE: Boston Globe | PHOTO CREDIT: Twitter