Retired Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, the Marine Corps' first black aviator and brigadier general, died Aug. 25.
Petersen, who retired from his groundbreaking 38-year military career in 1988, died at his home in Stevensville, Maryland, at the age of 83 following complications from lung cancer.
"The impact he had on the Marine Corps is more than can be put into words," Lt. Gen. Ronald Coleman (ret.) told Marine Corps Times. "Monumental, if you can think ... about where he came from and what he had to go through."
"What he's done for the Corps, for the nation, for not only black America but white America, is something for the ages, and I don't think we could ever pay him enough for what he's done."
Petersen received his promotion to brigadier general in 1979, making him the first black general in the Marine Corps. He received his third star in 1986.
Coleman was promoted to lieutenant general 20 years later, becoming the second black Marine to achieve that rank.
"He had two fights, so he fought one fight and put the other one behind him," Coleman said "He wanted to be a Marine, so he focused on that and just when forward."
"He pulled, he pushed a lot of people just to make it; maybe not to be a captain, major, colonel or general, but just to persevere."
Petersen was an inspiration to all those who followed in his footsteps," said retired Lt. Gen. Willie Williams, another groundbreaking black Marine who served as the top adviser to two commandants and worked alongside some of the military's most senior leaders.
"You could always look up with great pride just to be associated with a man of such great character. The impact he had was extraordinary — beyond words.
"When you look at the history of the Marine Corps, once the services opened the door to desegregation, he was one of the first to step forward," Williams said. "His performance was truly top of the line. True performance is colorblind: if you perform at the highest level, you're recognized for that, not as black or white, but as someone worthy to wear the stars."
Petersen, who received his Marine Corps commission in 1952 following a two-year enlistment in the Navy, was the first black Marine to command at all levels of Marine Corps aviation, from an aircraft squadron to an aircraft wing.
He completed a 1953 tour during the Korean War and a 1968 tour in Vietnam, flying more than 350 combat missions and 4,000 flying hours. Petersen received the Purple Heart in 1968 after his F-4 Phantom was shot down over the demilitarized zone in Vietnam.
Petersen retired in 1988 after serving as special assistant to the chief of staff.
Petersen's other military awards include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit with valor device, Distinguished Flying Cross and the Meritorious Service Medal.
"He was as peaceful and gentle as you could ask a dad to be and was always there for us," his son Frank E. Petersen III said. "You couldn't ask for a better father."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.