Navy names vessel after barrier-breaking Black aviator Frank E. Petersen Jr.

The new Navy guided-missile destroyer carrying the name Frank E. Petersen Jr to be commissioned on May 14 in South Carolina

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A warship bearing the name of a barrier-breaking Black service member is set to enter the Navy fleet next month.

The late Frank E. Petersen Jr. was the Marine Corp’s first Black aviator and officer to reach the rank of brigadier general, according to the Marine Corps.

On May 14, the Navy guided-missile destroyer, an Arleigh Burke-class vessel, that was named for him will be commissioned in Charleston, South Carolina, according to The Post and Courier

Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, Jr. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

“I don’t view my accomplishments as anything that was so much out of the ordinary,” Petersen said in a Marine video entitled “Breaking Barriers.” “The opportunities were there. I’m more proud of the fact that at the time of my retirement, I was the senior aviator in the United States Marine Corps.”

The ship, nearly 510 feet long, will carry 32 officers and 297 enlisted personnel, according to the U.S. Navy Office of Information. 

Petersen was born in Topeka, Kansas, on March 2, 1932. He spent two years in the Navy before entering the Marine Corp in 1952. He served in the wars in Korea in 1953 and Vietnam in 1968, and flew more than 4,000 hours in various aircraft and 350 combat missions over his career, the Marine Corps noted on its website.

In 1979, The Marine Corps promoted Petersen to brigadier general. He retired in 1988.

Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG 121) navigates in the Gulf of Mexico during bravo trials. (Photo By: Courtesy Huntington Ingalls Industries)

Petersen’s honors include the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Meritorious Service Medal, according to the Marines.

“The barriers that were overcome I feel proud of having been part of that,” Petersen said in the video interview. “But for every bad event that happened to me — I say bad event in terms of the things that may have happened to me — there are counterpoints. So, it’s sort of a balance, the good and the bad, but now there’s a hell of a lot more good than bad.”

But Petersen also said he was proud of his story.

“To put too much emphasis on the racial aspect it’s almost as if to say, ‘Wow, a Black guy did this, a Black guy did that,” he said.

“I’m not being humble, but I don’t want to overplay the issues that because you are Black that you have done something no one else could have done. That’s demeaning to me, so I don’t go for that.”

Petersen died of lung cancer in 2015. He was 83 years old.

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