Pioneering Marine aviator chosen for National Hall of Fame award

The late Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen CONTRIBUTED
The late Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen CONTRIBUTED

The first African-American Marine Corps officer to become an aviator and reach the rank of general was chosen for the 2017 Neil Armstrong Outstanding Achievement Award, the National Aviation Hall of Fame has announced.

The late Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen will be honored at the NAHF enshrinement dinner Oct. 28 in Fort Worth, Texas.

“He continually strove to not let anyone stop him whether it was race or any other reason,” said NAHF Executive Director Amy Spowart, who noted the award was announced by coincidence on the second anniversary of his death Friday.

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The Topeka, Kansas native enlisted as a Navy sailor in 1950, and later entered the naval aviation cadet program before he became a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He flew 350 combat missions during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, where he was once shot down in a F-4 Phantom.

He was the first African American to lead a fighter squadron, an air group and major base, the New York Times reported in a 2015 obituary.

He endured racism in the military, the newspaper reported. A recruiter told him to retake an entrance exam because he suspected he had cheated; he was pushed to become a mess steward in the Navy because of his race; and he was ejected off a bus in Florida during training because he refused to sit in the back with other black passengers, the New York Times reported. When Petersen arrived for his first day of training at a Marine Corps Air Station in California, a captain had him arrested claiming he was impersonating a military officer, the Times article said.

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While in the Marine Corps, he received decorations such as the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit recognizing valor in combat, a Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, Meritorious Service medal, and Navy and Air Force commendation medals, among others.

Petersen died at age 83 of lung cancer in Stevensville, Md., the Times reported.

Other recipients of the Armstrong award were Apollo 13 astronaut Jim Lovell in 2015, and Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan in 2016.

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