New U.S. Navy destroyer named for barrier-breaking Topeka native
TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The United States Navy accepted the delivery of a new guided-missile destroyer in November. It is named in honor of US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Frank E. Petersen Jr. who graduated from Topeka High School.
The USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. DDG 121 will soon set sail. The destroyer is named for the United States Marine Corps Lieutenant General Frank E. Petersen Jr.
“Growing up in Topeka, KS, he would lay in bed and listen to the airplanes flying overhead and he could identify the maker and the model of the airplane that was flying overhead. he was a kid who always wanted to fly,” Dana Moore, Petersen’s Jr. daughter said.
In September this year, the destroyer successfully completed acceptance trials after spending two days at sea for the final round of trials. The destroyer was christened in October 2018.
The Topeka native graduated from Topeka High School in 1949, went to Washburn University for a short time, then enlisted in the navy in 1950.
“The navy had already had a black pilot, the marine corps had not so he chose the Marine Corps,” Moore said.
Two years later, he became a pilot, making him the first African-American Marine Corps Aviator, he would later become the first African-American promoted to the rank of general in the marines.
“The thing I always remember was every time a plane flew over I would reach out to the sky and say hello uncle buddy,” Petersen’s niece, Debbie Dirden said.
“During that time that it was so important for all black men or all black families to do their best, to be their best,” Petersen’s niece, Patricia Leal-Mack said.
“When dad would take off or land the plane all the black people would come out and watch,” Petersen’s daughter, Gayle Petersen said. “It was just a beautiful thing to see, so he was very impressive to a lot of people to us he was just daddy.”
As the first African-American to command a fighter squadron, a fighter air group, an air wing, and a major base, Peterson flew more than 350 combat missions during the Korean and Vietnam wars between 1953 and 1968.
Moore explained that while Petersen was on one combat mission in Vietnam in 1968, Petersen’s plane was shot down, “I remember when dad was shot down and we were living in California and very scary to almost think that we lost our dad. When we lived in Topeka, KS our dad was in Korea. Frank said that our dad would always put us in a safe and good place.”
His family says it wasn’t easy for him to pursue his dreams.
“Being the first black in the 1960s to do anything carried a lot he was the first to do it and it was hard and it was not there were a lot of false barriers there were a lot of challenges that were put up there were a lot of false pressures,” Moore explained.
“I remember he would tell the story of how he was of course the senior ranking officer and people wouldn’t salute him and there was a man that wouldn’t salute him, and rather than get into a firefight about it, he just say can you at least salute the uniform, you may not want to salute me as a black man but at least salute the uniform,” Frank E. Petersen III explained. “I can remember 5 am in the morning waking up and dad was there shining his shoes right his shoes were unbelievable. One of the things dad said to me is ‘no matter how bad things seem, there’s always at least one person that’s going to do the right thing.”
But, he stuck to his motto of “frank owning the fight, “and what kept him going was just that, because he understood how to win the war and not try to win battles,” Frank Petersen III emphasized.
“The best time of our lives because all the years he was away and fighting wars and doing what he needed to do to preserve justice and freedom and fairness for this country,” Moore said.
In 1986, Peterson Jr. was inducted into the Topeka High School historical society’s hall of fame.
“The fact that Topeka High has put him into the Hall of Fame, and has a room with so much of his memorabilia and that students not yet born will be in that space and see his name and have the opportunity to learn about what happened there in their school is phenomenal,” Moore said.
“I think he would be flabbergasted in a way to have such an honor,” Frank Petersen III added.
“I think if he were here, he would probably say “take me to the engine room and let me run this thing,” Moore and the family laughed. ”It’s wonderful to know that that legacy will continue on.”
The destroyer will be commissioned in Charleston, South Carolina in spring, then, sail to Hawaii where it will be based.
Peterson passed away in 2015. He wrote a book about his career. it’s titled “Into The Tiger’s Jaw.”
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