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Remembering Maj. Gen. Tinker

November is Native American Heritage Month, and in recognizing the contributions Native Americans have contributed to the armed forces over the years, it seems fitting to honor and remember Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker. Tinker Air Force Base is unique in that the installation’s namesake was the highest ranking Native American service member in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Nov. 21 marked what would have been the 132nd birthday of Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker. Born in Pawhuska in 1887, Tinker was one-eighth Osage and grew up on Oklahoma’s Osage Reservation, learning the language and being immersed in the culture.

Tinker enlisted in the Army and was stationed in the Philippines in 1912 as a third lieutenant and, once he returned stateside, he took an interest in the newly developing aviation program within the army. In 1919 he took his first flying lesson and in 1922 he transferred to the Army Air Service.

Serving for a time as the air attache to the U.S. embassy in London and commandant of the Air Service Advanced Flying Field in Kelly Field, Texas, Tinker eventually made his way up the ranks until he was promoted as a brigadier general in 1940.

When the US entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Tinker was assigned commander of the Seventh Air Force in Hawaii, where he was in charge of the region’s air defense.

During the Battle of Midway Island on June 7, 1942, Tinker led a force of early model B-24 bombers against fleeting Japanese naval forces. Close to Midway Island, it is reported that his plane was viewed going out of control and plunging into the sea, making him the first American general to be killed in WWII.

Tinker, along with eight crewmen, lost their lives during the battle and his body was never recovered. Following his death at Midway, the Oklahoma City Air Depot was named in his honor as the Tinker Air Field in October 1942 and then was renamed to Tinker Air Force Base in January 1948.