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    Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker: A service full of daring deeds



    Story by Master Sgt. Mark Olsen  

    New Jersey National Guard   

    JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. - Maj. Gen. Clarence Leonard Tinker held many distinctions during his life – he was a command pilot, as well as a combat and aerial observer.

    He was also the first Native American to become a major general in the United States Army Air Forces.

    Tinker was born at the Osage Mission near Pawhuska, Oklahoma, in the Osage Nation, on Nov. 21, 1887 and was the oldest of George Edward Tinker and Sarah Anna Schwagerte Tinker’s nine children.

    While growing up, Tinker worked in his father’s print shop, which published the Wah-Sha-She News, a weekly newspaper in Pawhuska, which covered local and tribal news. The newspaper’s motto was “Speak the truth and you will shame the devil.”

    Tinker received his elementary education in Catholic schools at Hominy and Pawhuska, Oklahoma and the public school in Elgin, Kansas. In 1900, he traveled to Lawrence, Kansas, where he attended the Haskell Institute, which emphasized agricultural and vocational training for Native American children, but withdrew before graduating.

    Tinker moved to Lexington, Missouri, to enroll in the Wentworth Military Academy where he graduated in 1908. Upon graduation, the Wentworth Commandant helped Tinker get a commission as a third lieutenant with the Philippine Constabulary, which had just come under U.S. colonial rule. In 1909, Tinker and Henry “Hap” Arnold’s military service in the Philippines overlapped. Arnold would later become the first five-star General of the Air Force and was commander of Army Air Forces in victory over Germany and Japan in World War II.

    After serving with Constabulary until 1912, Tinker was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army on June 7, 1912 – thirty years to the day of his death – and was sent to Fort Wright, near Spokane, Washington, where he served with the 25th Infantry Regiment – one of two remaining black Army units created by Congress in 1866. Approximately six months later, the 25th was posted to Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

    It was in Hawaii that Tinker met and married Madeline Doyle of Nova Scotia on Oct. 8, 1913. Three years later, the first of three children, Clarence L. Tinker Jr., was born in Honolulu.

    In April 1920, now Capt. Tinker was assigned to the California Polytechnic High School in Riverside where he served as a professor of military studies and tactics for the school’s Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. This move set the stage for Tinker’s career. Riverside was close to March Field, which would later be renamed March Air Force Base. There Soldiers were being trained in the new warfare that used aircraft and were being assigned to the newly created Army Air Service.
    It was also at March Field that Tinker received his first flying training with the 818th Aero Squadron at the Air Service Pilot’s School. Tinker was later appointed commanding officer of the pilot school detachment.

    After graduating in March 1921, Maj. Tinker was transferred to Post Field at Fort Sill, Okla., where he was trained as aerial observer at the Air Service Observation School. Upon completion of observer’s school in February 1922, Tinker was selected to command the 16th Observation Squadron located at Marshall Field at Fort Riley in Kansas.

    From 1924 to 1925, he attended Air Service Tactical School at Langley Field, Virginia, where one of his classmates was Carl Spaatz who would later become the first chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force. In 1925, Tinker attended the Army Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

    Following his graduation in June 1926, he became the Assistant Military Attaché for Aviation in London. On Sept. 21, the plane he and Cmdr. Robert A. Burg, the Assistant Naval Attaché for Aviation, were flying, crashed. Despite receiving severe head and face injuries, Tinker pulled Burg from the wreckage of a burning aircraft and was awarded the Soldier’s Medal.

    During his service in England Tinker was probably exposed to British ideas about air power and its use in war – London having been attacked by German aircraft during the World War I. He also served with Maj. Hubert R. Harmon, who was an advocate for the development of a modern air force. Harmon would later be promoted to lieutenant general and played a major role in creating the United States Air Force Academy and served as its first superintendent.

    In March 1927, Tinker returned to the United States where he served on the staff of the newly formed Army Air Corps, the follow-on component to the Army Air Service. Eight months later Tinker was appointed as the Assistant Commandant of the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas.

    During his time at Kelly, Tinker became known as a strict teacher at the Advanced School and only the most qualified pilots ended up receiving their wings. One of those pilots was then 2nd Lt. Curtis E. LeMay who later become the fifth Chief of Staff of the Air Force.

    LeMay described the experience of being presented his wings from Tinker, “Who stands before us now to present the wings so long desired. He is tall, dark-haired, just a bit slumped from the very tall man’s habit of bending down to those of shorter stature. You look at his face, and suddenly you think of old stories about Osage Indians. It is Major Clarence L. Tinker. He is a great flyer and a great officer. Somehow the mere fact that he is the one who hands out the wings puts an extra shine on the gloss of those long-sought insignia.”

    In 1930, he was transferred to Mather Field, later Mather Air Force Base, outside Sacramento, California, where he served as the commander of the 20th Pursuit Group until Oct. 13, 1932. It was at this point that Tinker began testing almost every new aircraft that would become part of the Army Air Corps inventory. Nor was it unusual for him to be flying aircraft cross country. Records at Army Air Fields, such as the one at Davis-Monthan, show him landing in various types of aircraft.

    Beginning in December 1932, Tinker was stationed at March Field, near Riverside, California, where he commanded the 1st Pursuit Wing and later the 17th Pursuit Group and the 2nd Bombardment Group. It was during this time that Tinker’s path crossed again with Lt. Col. Henry “Hap” Arnold, the base commander.
    In December 1934, Tinker was assigned as commander of 7th Bombardment Group at Hamilton Field, later Hamilton Air Force Base, near Novato, California. During this period, then Brig. Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold visited the base to determine the progress of the unit’s testing of different types of bombers in the Army Air Corps inventory. At the time, the 7th was testing bombing techniques at the bombing and gunnery range at nearby Muroc Dry Lake, which later became Edwards Air Force Base. This and other tests were instrumental in the development of strategic bombing that was critical in crippling German and Japanese war production during World War II.

    In November 1936, recently promoted Lt. Col. Tinker returned to Washington, D.C., where he served at the National Guard Bureau for three years as the chief of the Aviation Division.

    In February 1939, Tinker was chosen as the guest speaker for the pilot’s class at Kelly Field. The largest graduating class, Col. Tinker presented the newly minted pilots, including his son, 2nd Lt. Clarence L. Tinker Jr., their pilot’s wings. Because Air Corps was such a new service, having a father and son who were both pilots was unusual, one that the media paid special attention to.

    Three years later Tinker was assigned to Barksdale Field, later Barksdale Air Force Base, Lousiana, where he served as the commander of the 27th Bomb Group. It was also in 1939 that the B-17 Flying Fortress and the B-24 Liberator entered service with the Army Air Corps.

    In April 1940, Tinker was transferred to Southeast Air Base in Florida, home of the 29th Bombardment Group, where he assumed command on May 17. On Nov. 1, he was promoted to colonel. One month later, the base was renamed MacDill Field. Today MacDill Air Force Base is home to United States Central and United States Special Operations Commands.

    Tinker was promoted to brigadier general on Oct. 1, 1941. By this time he was in command of the 3rd Interceptor Command and the 3rd Bombardment Wing, replacing Maj. Gen. Frederick L. Martin who was transferred to Hickam Field, Hawaii as commander of the Hawaiian Air Force.

    Tinker’s time at MacDill ended with the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7. Interestingly, the group of 12 B-17s that landed at Hickam Field, Hawaii, during the attack on Dec. 7, was from Tinker’s old unit, the 7th Bombardment Group.

    In the Dec. 29, 1941 issue of Time magazine an article, titled “The U.S. at war, shake-up,” described the fallout from the Pearl Harbor attack including Martin being removed from his command and being replaced with Tinker. Tinker was described “As Hawaiian Air Force Commander, Brigadier General Clarence L. Tinker, 54, a spit-&-polish, sky-ripping flight officer, part Osage Indian [Oklahoma], flyer since 1920, chief of Third Interceptor Command.”

    Tinker took command of the Hawaiian Air Force on Dec. 19 to reorganize the island’s air defenses. “In my opinion the air force will be the controlling factor in all wars, including this one,” said Tinker. On Jan. 14, 1942, he was promoted to major general. On Feb. 5, the Hawaiian Air Force was renamed the 7th Air Force.
    Despite the fact that the United States had suffered a major military defeat and a future that looked incredibly bleak, Tinker’s message to the troops at Hickam Field was a positive one: “The Air Force is proud of you – for your courageous action under fire and for your splendid cooperation in the present state of war. Though the coming year will undoubtedly be a severe test, I know that you will respond in the American way, which is fully sufficient for all circumstances.”

    Six months after the Pearl Harbor attack, American codebreakers determined that Japanese forces were going to attack Midway Island in preparation to the invasion Hawaii. With this intelligence, American forces were able to set a trap for the Japanese Navy, which was decimated during the Battle of Midway.

    Leading up to the battle, Tinker’s 7th Air Force was used for long range reconnaissance and to protect Hawaii should the Japanese attack again. While critical, Tinker also considered the defense of Midway equally so. To that end he sent 19 B-17s and four B-26s to Midway.

    When the Battle of Midway did finally occur on June 4-7, 1942; these aircraft were used for reconnaissance and to bomb Japanese warships and aircraft carriers.
    On the second to the last day of the battle, June 7, Tinker led a mission of early model B-24 Liberators against Japanese forces on Wake Island. Tinker’s LB-30 fell out of formation and disappeared somewhere between Midway and Wake islands. His body along with the aircraft’s seven crewmen was never recovered. He became the first American general lost in action in World War II.

    “He chose the most dangerous mission,” said Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, Military governor of Hawaii. “He has set the highest standard for gallantry in leadership.” Tinker was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his action in leading the mission.

    At the direction of Lt. Gen. Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces, the Oklahoma City Air Depot was designated Tinker Field on Oct. 14, 1942. Today Tinker Air Force Base is the headquarters of the Air Force Material Command’s Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center.

    "Tink's whole service was full of daring deeds, original conceptions, and successful completion of those plans," said Lt. Gen. Arnold.



    Date Taken: 11.01.2010
    Date Posted: 10.27.2015 15:11
    Story ID: 179971

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