Clarence Tinker - An American Hero

Clarence L. Tinker, circa 1920. From an album belonging to Mary Genevieve (Tinker) Dyer, Clarence's younger sister
Major General Clarence Leonard Tinker.
U.S. War Dept.
Commander Robert Andrew Burg.
Patrick McConnell

On 21st September, 1926…

Major Clarence L. Tinker, Assistant Military Attache for Aviation at the U.S. Embassy and Commander Robert Andrew Burg, Assistant Naval Attache, took off from Kenley at noon in their DH4b, an American service machine kept for use by embassy officials. They didn’t get very far before the aircraft developed engine trouble. Witnesses on the ground became alarmed as it flew low over Caterham valley, towards the cliffs of the chalk quarry, which it narrowly avoided, only to clip the bushes at the top and flip over, coming to rest on top of the hill at Riddlesdown, only a few yards from the quarry’s edge, and bursting into flames, almost opposite the site of the Rose and Crown Hotel.

Tinker had survived the crash and later received the Soldier’s Medal for his unhesitating bravery:

Although injured and in a semi-dazed condition due to the crash, Major Tinker was able to get clear of his burning plane, but when he realized that Commander Burg was still in the cockpit, he rushed back into the flames in an attempt to rescue his passenger. He was driven back by the intense heat, but returned to the other side, and after repeated and determined efforts, being badly burned in the attempt, he extricated Commander Burg and dragged him, unconscious to a place of safety.”

Both men were taken to Purley War Memorial Hospital where Commander Burg succumbed to his injuries a week later with his wife at his side. He was 41 years old when he died.

COMMANDER ROBERT ANDREW BURG was born in December 1884 in Cheyenne County, Nebraska. After graduating High School and while attending the state university, he was appointed as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, where he excelled, graduating in 1908.

Prior to WW1, he may have worked on submarine construction, which possibly took him into the U.S. submarine forces during the Great War. At the close of hostilities, Burg qualified himself as an expert in naval radio and then took up aviation, becoming second in command of the aviation forces at San Diego, California. At the time of his death, he was Assistant Naval Attache to the American embassies in London, Paris, Berlin and the Hague.

His body was taken back to Nebraska and he now lies at rest in Grand Island Cemetery, Hall County. Section D, Lot 73.

Commander Burg is remembered on our online memorial here.

MAJOR GENERAL CLARENCE LEONARD TINKER was born in Oklahoma, in November 1887. He was one eighth Osage Indian and was born in the Indian territory that ultimately became Osage County, making him the first American Indian in U.S. Army history to attain the rank of Major General. He was also the first American General to be killed in World War II when his bomber plummeted into the sea as he led a formation against the Japanese during the Battle of Midway.

Clarence Tinker graduated from Wentworth Military Academy in 1908. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army Infantry as a second lieutenant in 1912 and during the Great War, served in the southwestern states and California. He began flying lessons in 1919 and transferred to the Air Corps, being assigned to flying duties in 1922. Tinker rose through the ranks, becoming a Brigadier General in October 1940. At the time, he was in charge of MacDill Field in Tampa, Florida, and while all eyes were on the conflict raging across Europe, he cautioned against Japanese aggression in the Pacific, devising plans to protect the Panama Canal and the Caribbean territories which later became strategically important.

Tinker’s time at MacDill ended with the attack on Pearl Harbour, 7th December 1941. He took command of the Hawaiian Air Force on the 19th December and set about re-organising the island’s air defences. Six months after the attack on Pearl Harbour, American codebreakers determined that the Japanese were preparing to attack Midway Island in preparation for an invasion of Hawaii. Tinker arranged his forces accordingly, sending nineteen B-17s and four B-26s to Midway. The Battle began on the 4th June. Three days later, Tinker personally led a mission against the Japanese forces on Wake Island, flying an early model LB-30 Liberator, which fell out of formation and disappeared somewhere between Midway and Wake Island. Tinker and his seven crew were never found.

When news of Tinker’s death reached the Osage Nation, the Native Americans conducted their first victory dance since World War I over a four-day period, to honour their lost warrior.

Tinker was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his action in leading the mission and the Oklahoma City Air Depot was renamed Tinker Field in October 1942, to commemorate his achievements.


Patrick McConnell.
Kenley Scramble by Richard C. Smith.

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