Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet celebrated African American Heritage Month, themed “Honoring the Past, Securing the Future," in San Diego, Feb. 26.
This year’s theme focuses on commemorating the 75th Anniversary of World War II by recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of African American service members, as well as those who served on the home front.
“Black History Month is celebrated to show appreciation and to acknowledge the hard work and persistence and the tribulations endured by African Americans in the past,” said Yeoman 1st Class Derrick Brown, the master of ceremonies for the celebration. “Through each endeavor and accomplishment, they made a gateway for others to come along and make their mark on black history.”
The event featured a presentation highlighting African American trailblazers such as Doris Miller, the Golden 13, and the Golden 14. The chorus group Archie Robinson and New Birth Praise performed for the audience, and Command Master Chief Charles Smith of the future USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG 121), delivered the keynote speech.
“Black history is not just about racism or bigotry, but how we continue to persevere, recognize and honor great African Americans,” said Smith. "This month is an integral part of our nation's tradition in which we continue to promote positive examples of important historical events, exemplary leaders, and steps toward societal changes."
Smith shared the story of Frank E. Petersen Jr., his ship’s namesake, who enlisted in the Navy before earning his commission in the Marine Corps and becoming the first African American pilot in the Marines. Petersen flew more than 350 combat missions in two wars and became the first African American to command a Marine fighter attack squadron. He retired in 1988, having earned the rank of lieutenant general — the first African American to ever hold this rank, and was the senior ranking aviator at the time in the Navy and Marine Corps and Navy.
"This celebration of our history is felt both nationally and worldwide," said Smith. "Not only is this month imperative to the African American community, but it is also imperative for the greater understanding of our national and world history."