Skip to content

Navy To Commission New Destroyer Named For Marine Corps’ First Black Aviator

Navy To Commission New Destroyer Named For Marine Corps’ First Black Aviator

He served for nearly four decades.

The Navy is commissioning a new destroyer named after the Marine Corps’ first Black aviator, The Post and Courier reports. 

Frank E. Petersen, Jr. was born March 2, 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. He joined the Navy in 1950 as a seaman apprentice, working as an electronics technician up until 1951 when he decided to join the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. By October 1952, he had completed flight training, subsequently accepting a commission as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, making history as the Marine Corps’ first Black aviator and general officer. 

During his time in the Corps, Petersen served two combat tours, flying in Korea in 1953 and again in Vietnam in 1968. Over the course of his tenure, he flew more than 350 combat missions, garnering over 4,000 flight hours in various fighting aircraft. Petersen retired as a lieutenant general in 1988, passing away at the age of 83 in August 2015. Now, the Navy is commissioning a new guided-missile destroyer that will be named in honor of Petersen. 

The Frank E. Petersen Jr., is an Arleigh Burke-class vessel that will be commissioned in Charleston. The vessel has already completed its sea trials and is headed to Charleston after it leaves the Inglis Shipbuilding site in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The vessel is 513 feet long with a beam of 66 feet and a 33 foot navigational draft. The ship is powered by four General Electric LM2500 gas turbines and has speed capability of more than 30 knots. Once the ship goes online, it will be homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii, the 33rd destroyer built at Pascagoula with five more currently under construction. The Petersen ship’s motto is even taken from Petersen’s 1998 autobiography of the same name. 

“The ship’s motto, ‘Into the Tiger’s Jaw,’ is a phrase used by Petersen many times throughout his life to convey unbridled spirit in confronting and overcoming social injustice and prejudice as well as bravery in combat and courage in the broad sense,” explained the Petersen Commissioning Committee via statement. 

Commander Daniel A. Hancock is expected to serve as commanding officer of a 32 officer crew with 297 enlisted personnel aboard the Petersen ship. While the late aviator had no ties to the city of Charleston, it is customary that the Navy host commissioning ceremonies in towns with Navy traditions, Charleston having one of the largest Marine Corps presence in the country. 

The commissioning ceremony will take place at the Columbus Street Terminal on May 14th at 10 a.m. The ceremony is open to the public and tickets may be requested at

Thank you for your service, Mr. Peterson. 

Photo Courtesy of Sgt. N.R. Casini/Marine Corps