Marine aviator Frank Peterson became joined the military in 1952, making him the first Black Marine aviator. His first flights were during the Korean War.
Becoming A Marine Aviator
According to Task and Purpose, Peterson said in a video before he died in 2015 that Ensign Jesse L. Brown becoming a naval aviator was his inspiration for joining himself. Brown was flying over the Chosin Reservoir when he was shot down in 1950.
Brown's wingman Lt. j.g. Thomas J. Hudner Jr. tried to rescue him and received a Medal of Honor for his efforts. Peterson said, “When I read that story, I thought: OK, let me see if I could have a shot at flying in the Navy."
Peterson decided to join the Marines when another Black cadet failed flight school and talked him into joining.
“I was determined that I was going to give it my best in terms of getting through the flight school. With luck along the way — and a lot help from others — I made it through the program.”Frank Peterson
He received a fail from one flight instructor, but he wouldn't give up. When he got to the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, he was arrested for impersonating an officer, and a landlord in Hawaii would not rent to him since he and his wife were black.
Three months after he was assigned to El Toro, he went to Korea. In the video, he said he took over flight command on a flight. He took out the target and earned a Distinguished Flying Cross.
Peterson said, "It was rather abrupt from a young Kansas farm boy to all of a sudden being a 21-year-old second lieutenant with a Distinguished Flying Cross under his belt."
Overall, Peterson flew 350 combat missions in Korea and Vietnam, racking up 4,000 flight hours. He retired as a senior aviator in the Navy and Marine Corps with the titles of "Silver Hawk" and "Grey Eagle."
Peterson passed away in 2015 but was honored posthumously by the Navy with a destroyer named after him. The USS Frank E. Peterson Jr. will be commissioned in Charleston, South Carolina.
“This ship honors the life and legacy of Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr., a pioneer not just for Marine Corps aviation but for our entire naval force."Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro