Honoring Captain Pete Peterson

A special ceremony honoring Air Force Captain Pete Peterson is the result of months of planning involving several individuals and entities in Tuskegee and Macon County.

Though his life ended far too soon, Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson will forever be remembered in the annals of history. Soon another accolade will preserve his legacy when Tuskegee and Macon County rename a portion of State Road 199 in his honor. The new name will be Captain Joseph “Pete” Peterson Memorial Boulevard.

In this part of Alabama, the name Pete Peterson evokes tremendous respect.

He was among the student athletes who integrated high school sports programs in Tuskegee. He took flight lessons from “Chief” C. Alfred Anderson and at a young age, earned his private pilot’s license. Peterson attended Auburn University and participated in the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) Program. Peterson earned his bachelor’s degree in Marketing and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force on August 27, 1971. The day after this military milestone he married his wife, the former Cecilia Jones of Tuskegee.

Artwork: “Memorial Portrait – Four Thunderbirds: Major Norm Lowry, Capt. “Pete” Peterson, Capt. “Willie” Mays, and Capt. Mark Melancon” Artist: Jeanette Pajares, US Air Force Air Collection

He was the second African-American to serve as a pilot with the elite U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds. The Thunderbirds, known for their precision air shows, fly their distinctive jets as close as 36-inches apart at speeds of up to 500 mph. Tragedy ended his 32-year old life during a pre-season training on January 18, 1982.

Despite being gone, he is not forgotten.

Peterson graduated from Tuskegee Public School in 1967. Yet it was the Tuskegee Institute High School Class of 1964 that initiated the effort to honor him.  To advance the project, members of the Class of ’64 worked with the National Park Service, state, county and city officials, relatives of Captain Peterson and friends who knew him during his time in Tuskegee.

The ceremony will be beautiful yet respectfully somber. The honoree departed this life 35 years ago, survived by his wife, children, siblings and parents.

I had the privilege of speaking with Pete Peterson’s dad by phone recently while he was at his home in Maryland. My plan was to dig deep into his memories of Pete as a child. And though I am a seasoned journalist with proficient interviewing skills, I felt a strong sense of compassion for the elderly Mr. Peterson. So instead of my original intentions, sensitivity ruled.

My questions related to his special needs during the ceremony. My concern was for this 95-year old man to have a comfortable experience as he witnesses the sign unveiling that will memorialize his son in the community where young Pete Peterson was raised, educated and nurtured.

The public is invited to the event on Thursday, October 26, 2017 at 1:00pm near the intersection of State Road 199 and State Road 81.

As the person in charge of public relations and media, I feel a special obligation to rise above all challenges concerning this project and soar like pilots flying synchronized aerobatics high in the sky.