From Publishers Weekly
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 (They Had a Dream), 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 ("Yeah, I remember Frank..."), 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. Photos. (Dec.) FYI: This month, two other books analyze African Americans in the military?Gerald Astor's The Right to Fight (Forecasts, Oct. 19) and Theodore Taylor's The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown (Forecasts, Oct.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Petersen joined the navy at 18 in 1950 and managed to be selected for flight training. Although the armed services were, technically, integrated in 1948, he spent most of his time, it seems, fighting genteel and not-so-genteel opposition from whites who, in words like those we hear now about women in the military, claimed that the armed forces were being sacrificed for the sake of the "social experiment" of fully incorporating someone besides white males. He persevered, surviving two wars (against foreign enemies, that is), thousands of hours in cockpits, hate mail that has to be read to be believed (and then, one doesn't like to), a divorce, and many other challenges. He retired as the senior marine aviator, the "Silver Eagle," and the first black marine general. It would be hard to imagine a man who has deserved better of his country, and without his story, there would be formidable gaps in several areas of American history. Roland Green