Frank E. Petersen Jr., who became the first black Marine Corps pilot and general officer, took the Navy's entrance exam in 1950. The questions, he later recalled, were "relatively unremarkable."
The officer overseeing the test called him a few days later, asking, "Would you mind retaking the examination?" It was not hard for the future three-star general to decode the reason for the request: His score was high, and the implication was that he had cheated.
Again, he aced the test, and the officer exclaimed: "Petersen, my boy, the Navy has opportunities for guys like you. . . . My, God, man, what a great steward you'd make!" The remark was particularly painful for Petersen, who said he had turned to the military because he hoped it would an escape from pervasive racial prejudice in his native Kansas.
Petersen, who died Aug. 25 at 83 of complications from lung cancer, joined the Navy in June 1950 as a seaman apprentice and the next year entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program. He was motivated by the recent Korean War combat death of Jesse Brown, the Navy's first black aviator.
President Harry S. Truman had ordered the armed forces to desegregate in 1948, but Petersen later wrote that the Navy and Marine Corps were "the last to even entertain the idea of integrating their forces."
Upon completion of his flight training, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. He flew 64 combat missions in Korea in 1953 and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other decorations.
In 1968, he did a tour of duty in Vietnam, where he commanded a tactical air squadron and served in more than 250 missions.
He received the Purple Heart for wounds suffered when he ejected after his plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire over the demilitarized zone.
In all, he accumulated more than 4,000 hours in fighter and attack aircraft.
While in the Marines, he received a bachelor's degree in 1967 and a master's degree in international affairs in 1973, both from George Washington University. He graduated from the National War College in 1973.