About Clarence Leonard Tinker
Major General Clarence Leonard Tinker (1887–1942) was an airman who lost his life during World War II while on a combat mission during the Japanese attack on Midway Island in the Pacific, June 7, 1942. Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is named in his honor. Tinker was an enrolled member of the Osage Nation and the highest ranking native-American officer in the U. S. Army.
One-eighth Osage Indian, Clarence Tinker was born on November 21, 1887 near Pawhuska, Oklahoma in the Osage Nation. His maternal grandmother was half-Osage, with both her parents being children of the marriage of Osages with Arcadian Frenchmen from Louisiana. Tinker, the eldest son of George E. Tinker and Sarah A. Schwagerte, received his elementary education in Catholic institutions at Hominy and Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and the Elgin, Kansas public school. While growing up, he worked in the print shop of the Wah-Sha-She News, Pawhuska's first newspaper, which his father founded and published. Beginning in 1900 Tinker attended the Haskell Institute, the famous Indian school in Lawrence, Kansas, but withdrew before graduating. In the fall of 1906, Tinker enrolled at Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, Missouri. Upon graduating from Wentworth in 1908 Tinker was commissioned a third lieutenant in the Philippine Constabulary. His service there ended in 1912.
He received his commission as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army infantry in March 1912. After infantry training, Tinker joined the Twenty-fifth Infantry Division at Fort George Wright in Spokane, Washington. In 1913, his unit was transferred to Hawaii, where he met and married Madeline Doyle, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
During World War I, Tinker served in the Southwestern United States and California, and was promoted to Major. In 1919, Tinker began flying lessons. One of his assignments after the War was with the ROTC at Riverside High School. When his father came to visit him at the school they began a conversation in Osage in public. This use of the language was one of the ways that Tinker publicly demonstrated his Osageness. Shortly thereafter, he transferred to the Army Air Service, and on July 1, 1922, he was assigned to flight duty. For a time Tinker was the air attache to the US embassy in London. He also was at the Army Command and Staff College in the same class as Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1927, he was named Commandant of the Air Service Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas. Tinker commanded various pursuit and bombardment units during the 1930s. He was steadily promoted, and on October 1, 1940, became a brigadier general.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Tinker was named Commander of the Seventh Air Force in Hawaii to reorganize the air defenses of the islands. In January 1942, he was promoted to Major General, the First American Indian in U.S. Army history to attain that rank. In June 1942, the Japanese began their assault of Midway Island. In the midst of the Battle of Midway, on June 7, General Tinker decided personally to lead a force of early model B-24s against the retreating Japanese naval forces. Near Midway Island his plane was seen to go out of control and plunge into the sea. General Tinker and eight other crewmen perished. His body was never recovered.
Clarence L. Tinker was the first American General killed in World War II. He received the Soldier's Medal in 1931 and was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. On October 14, 1942, the Oklahoma City Air Depot was named Tinker Field in his honor. It is now known as Tinker Air Force Base. There is also an elementary school named after him at Macdill Air Force Base.