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America's First Black Marine Aviator
  • ISBN/SKU: 9781612511900
  • Binding: Paperback & eBook
  • Era: 20th Century
  • Number of Pages: 336
  • Subject: Vietnam War
  • Date Available: July 2012
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“Once I found out what being a United States Marine was all about, jumping into the tiger’s jaw was just something to do.  We’d been trained for combat.  That’s our reason for being.  When the time comes, hell, stick out your can.  Let’s go.  Let’s see what the old tiger’s got.  Let’s jump right into his big, old jaw.  That’s what I was doing that day in Vietnam when that old tiger caterwauled and bit me.  I was flying high.  A Lieutenant Colonel, Marine fighter squadron commander. Keeper of the keys. . . .  And to make it sweeter our call sign was Black Knights.  Hypothetical swords at the ready, I pulled that hot pad duty just like I wanted my men to do it.  Five- to twelve-hour stints, depending on the threat and the type of call for assistance.  Tiger growled.  We listened. Marine troops pinned down, deep in the DMZ.  Twenty miles north of the Rock Pile, near An Khe. Target, 15 miles into North Vietnam.  We fired up the Phantoms, those big, powerful, weirdly beautiful F-4s—and flew right into that old tiger’s jaw. . . .” From the Prologue

Like many 18-year-olds who sign up to serve with the U.S. Navy, Petersen was looking for adventure when he enlisted.  The difference between him and the average kid of 1950, when he enlisted, was that Petersen was African American.  At the time military opportunities were limited for blacks, so it was remarkable that Petersen, revealed here as an intense go-getter, was admitted to the highly competitive naval aviation cadet program.  He would go on to become the first African American pilot, then flag officer, then three-star general in the deeply conservative Marine Corps.  Assisted by veteran biographer Phelps, Petersen relates his personal and career trajectory from wide-eyed kid to seasoned combatant.  Although the presentation at times is overly detailed, with recollections of Petersen's acquaintances sprinkled liberally throughout.  This work offers valuable insight into the evolution of both the military and the society at large through the experience of one man and his family.  It's hard not to wince when Petersen describes being stopped for impersonating a military officer at a time when blacks in the service were presumed to be enlisted men.  Other anecdotes are more benign, such as the time a puzzled young Korean woman tried to wipe the color from his face.  To Petersen's credit, he includes much commentary from his first wife, Ellie, who is candid about the toll of being married to an ambitious pioneer.  Through her, readers see the mettle of that rare breed of social groundbreakers.Publishers Weekly

“This is clearly one of those ‘must have’ books for all serious students of military history.  Petersen began his Marine Corps story in 1952 when he was the first African American Marine Corps officer to earn pilot’s wings.  He saw combat for the very first time as a Corsair pilot in Korea, flew over 350 combat missions in Vietnam, and commanded at the squadron, group, brigade, and Marine Aircraft Wing levels.  In addition to the many ‘firsts’ to his credit, General Petersen is a Marine’s Marine in every sense of the word, and this autobiography should be required reading for all Marines and for anyone struggling to overcome adversity in their lives.” — Lt.Col. Charles P. Neimeyer, USMC (Ret.), Director and Chief of Marine Corps History at Marine Corps University

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Lt. General Frank Petersen, USMC (Ret.) passed away on 25 August 2015; he was 83.

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