Secretary of Navy visits Cherry Point

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced Wednesday at Cherry Point that a new Navy ship would be named after the first African-American Marine Corps pilot, Frank E. Petersen Jr.

Petersen was also the first African-American Marine Corps general officer.

“Frank Petersen was a great Marine, a great pilot, 350 combat missions in his career, but he was also a pioneer, a pioneer for civil rights,” Mabus said at the Twin Rivers Theater at Cherry Point. “Some of the things that he went through with hatred, bigotry, discrimination and the fact that he never stopped, he made the Marine Corps better. He made the Marine Corps stronger.

“People like that are Marine heroes and they deserve to have ships named after them.”

The ship, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, DDG-121, is being built at the Huntington Ingalls Industries shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., and will join the fleet in 2020.

“That name, Frank Petersen, will be out there for more than three decades going around the world, not just for Americans to see but for the whole world to see this is somebody whose values we honor,” Mabus said.

Mabus’ visit to eastern North Carolina also included attendance at a Marine Corps birthday pageant and cake cutting Wednesday at Camp Lejeune and presentation of Energy and Water Management Awards. After the Cherry Point visit, Mabus joined Marines and sailors at the 2nd Marine Division Command Element’s Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

“Cherry Point is one of the vital links in the Marine Corps,” Mabus said. “It does such great work out of here. The training that is done here, the operations that come out of here, the things that they do to send Marines forward, to go downrange, to deploy, aren’t replicated anywhere else, so the future for Cherry Point ought to be very, very bright because I know the future for the Marine Corps is very, very bright.”

Petersen enlisted in the Navy in 1950 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps in 1952, according to a release. He flew 350 combat missions during the Korean and Vietnam wars and had 4,000 hours flying various fighter and attack aircraft. Petersen was also the first African-American in the Marine Corps to command a fighter squadron, an air group and a major base, according to a release from the Department of Defense.

At the date of his retirement from the Marine Corps in 1988 with 38 years of service, Petersen was, by date of designation, the most senior ranking pilot in both the Marine Corps and in the Navy.

Petersen died at the age of 83 in 2015 at his home in Stevensville, Md., which is near Annapolis.

The future USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. will be 509 feet long with a beam length of 59 feet, according to a release. The destroyer will be capable of making speeds beyond 30 knots. The Petersen will conduct many operations including, peacetime presence, crisis response, sea control and power projection. The ship will be equipped to fight air, surface and subsurface battles at the same time, according to the release.