The U.S. Navy held a naming ceremony on November 9 for its latest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, DDG 121. The vessel will be named USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. in honor of the Marine Corps lieutenant general who was the first African-American Marine Corps aviator and the first African-American Marine Corps general officer.
In 1950, two years after President Harry S. Truman desegregated the armed forces, Petersen enlisted in the Navy.
In 1952, Petersen was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He would go on to fly 350 combat missions during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He also went on to become the first African-American in the Marine Corps to command a fighter squadron, an air group and a major base.
Petersen retired from the Marine Corps in 1988 after 38 years of service. At the time of his retirement he was, by date of designation, the senior-ranking aviator in the Marine Corps and the United States Navy.
Petersen was born on March 2, 1932 in Topeka, Kansas. He married Eleanor Burton in 1955 while he was a pilot on rotation for test flights in dropping an atomic bomb and was called for a flight on the night of his wedding.
Petersen died last year at his home in Stevensville, Maryland, near Annapolis, at the age of 83. This is the first ship to be named for Petersen.
"The courage and perseverance of Lt. Gen. Petersen throughout his distinguished and ground-breaking career make him especially deserving of this honor," said Secretary for the Navy Ray Mabus. "Those who serve aboard DDG 121 will, for decades, carry on the storied legacy of this Marine Corps hero."
Petersen's military decorations and awards:
Arleigh Burke-class destroyers conduct a variety of operations from peacetime presence and crisis response to sea control and power projection. DDG 121 will be capable of fighting air, surface and subsurface battles simultaneously, and will contain a combination of offensive and defensive weapon systems designed to support maritime warfare including integrated air and missile defense and vertical launch capabilities.
Construction began on the future USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG 121) on April 27 at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the ship is expected to enter the Navy fleet in 2020.
Frank E. Petersen, Jr. will be built in the Flight IIA configuration with the AEGIS Baseline 9 Combat System which includes Integrated Air and Missile Defense capability. This system delivers quick reaction time, high firepower and increased electronic countermeasures capability for Anti-Air Warfare.
The ship will be 509 feet long, have a beam length of 59 feet and be capable of operating at speeds in excess of 30 knots.