The Obituary For America’s First Black Marine General Will Give You Chills

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Photo by Cpl. Jose D. Lujano

Frank E. Petersen Jr., the first black Marine aviator and the first black general in the Marine Corps, died Aug. 25 in his home near Annapolis, Maryland, at the age of 83. Petersen enlisted in the Navy in 1950 and would earn his commission in the Marine Corps two years later as a second lieutenant. He retired in 1988 as a lieutenant general. The New York Times explores Petersen’s hardships in the early years of integration, and his successes in the decades following.


“An instructor flunked him in training and predicted he would never fly,” the Times writes. “On his first day at the Marine Corps Air Station in El Toro, Calif., a captain claimed he was masquerading as a lieutenant and had him arrested. In Hawaii, a landlord refused to rent a house to him and his wife, and admitted to a subsequent prospect that he did so because they were black.”

A career Marine, Petersen was not only successful as a black man in a time where integration was still highly contentious, but also as an aviator and a leader.

“Just to be able to say you kicked down another door was such a great satisfaction,” Peterson once said.

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by Martin Slagter, The Ann Arbor News, Mich.

YPSILANTI, MI - When a brigade of U.S. troops was ambushed by the North Vietnamese Army in the Song Tra Cau riverbed on the morning of May 15, 1967, Lt. Charles Kettles volunteered to lead the rescue, and he refused, again and again, to back down when faced with a barrage of gunfire.

His aircraft badly damaged, left spilling fuel, and his gunner was severely injured during the treacherous operation.

But he helicoptered in and out of the battlefield four times, saving the lives of 44 soldiers in a death-defying emergency operation that would become a legendary tale of bravery in the Vietnam War.

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