“An Osage leader is never at the back of his band of warriors”
– Dr. James Crowder, historian at Tinker Air Force Base
Clarence Leonard Tinker was the first Native American to attain the rank of major general. Growing up in Pawhuska, he revered the heroism of Osage military veterans and idolized the legends of Osage bravery in warfare. As a major general during the second World War, Clarence Tinker was not expected to enter direct combat, let alone lead a unit headfirst into front lines. Yet Tinker’s Osage upbringing instilled in him the importance of leading the fight himself. Sadly, Clarence was the first general to die in combat during WWII. He was shot down June 7, 1942, while flying a mission over the Pacific during the Battle of Midway.
Tinker’s values were rooted in his Oklahoma upbringing. He spoke the Osage language and always maintained a close relationship with his father throughout his entire life.
Today, the Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City bears the namesake of Major General Clarence Tinker. It is home to the 72nd Air Base Wing, providing material, support, and logistics for our nation’s armed forces. They have established themselves as an indispensable component of our country’s defense apparatus. Which is why it’s fitting the base is named after an Oklahoman who broke barriers, demonstrated tremendous leadership, and courageously laid down his life in combat.
Those who serve at Tinker are representatives of the Oklahoma Way. They were some of the first responders at the Murrah building in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. And when so many homes and businesses were destroyed in the wake of the tornado in May 1999, Tinker servicemen and women were immediately on the ground providing humanitarian aid and support.
Veteran’s Day is a moment to reflect on the legacy of those, like Maj. Gen. Tinker, who served our country. It’s a day to reflect on their sacrifices, their selflessness and their sense of duty that prompted them to join our nation’s armed services. Oklahoma is home to roughly 340,000 veterans and 20,000 active duty military personnel and I’m proud of the way our state has built upon this tremendous legacy of service.
One of the great honors of my job is to meet with these men and women and their families to hear their stories. These are folks who have served in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the War on Terror. Many of them recall with great detail their experience in uniform and how it shaped their lives forever. I am always humbled by the overwhelming sense of patriotism I hear from our veterans of past wars – many of them only teenagers when they first answered the call to serve their country.
Maj. Gen. Clarence Tinker was a man who made everyone — his family, his community and his country — proud. Oklahoma is fortunate to have Tinker’s story as a part of our state’s history.
Seventy years have passed since he was lost in combat but the memory and pride for Maj. Gen. Tinker’s service has not faded. At their annual In-lon-shka celebration, the Osage honor military veterans, including Tinker, with a ceremonial song and dance performance. These are closely held traditions passed between many generations. The way the Osage community comes together to honor those who have served sets a remarkable example for the rest of us.
So on this day, I hope that we can take a moment to pay respects to all our veterans whose individual stories, small and large, paint a greater portrait about what it truly means to serve your country. If it weren’t for them, we could not enjoy the freedom, prosperity and peace we have today.