Born north of Pawhuska, in the Osage Nation, on Nov. 21, 1887, Clarence Tinker was the son of George Edward Tinker and Sarah Ann Schwagerte Tinker. His father was the founder and publisher of the Wah-Sha-She News, Pawhuska's first newspaper, and Tinker worked in the print shop during his youth.
Tinker received his early schooling at the Osage Indian Boarding School in Pawhuska and Haskell Institute, Lawrence, KS. His formal military education began when he entered Wentworth Military Academy in Lexington, MO. After graduating in 1908, he entered the uniformed service as a third lieutenant in the Philippine Constabulary. He gained a commission in the U.S. Army Infantry in March 1912.
While serving the Hawaiian Islands in 1913, Tinker met and married Madeline Doyle of Nova Scotia. Later assignments took him to Arizona and Texas during World War I and to California.
During the 1920s, Tinker entered the Air Service and began his career as a pilot. After graduating from the Army's Command and General Staff School, he was assigned as Assistant Military Attache for Aviation in London. A few months after arriving in England, he received the Soldier's Medal for saving the life of a U.S. Navy pilot after their plane crashed and burned.
Tinker returned to the United States in 1927 and was soon named Commandant of the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, TX. During the 1930s, he commanded various pursuit and bombardment units at Mather, March, and Hamilton Fields in California. He was then assigned as chief of the Aviation Division, National Guard Bureau in Washington, DC. Later he commanded the 27th Bombardment Group at Barksdale Field, LA, and MacDill and Drew Fields in Florida.
Shortly after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Tinker was appointed commander of the Air Forces in Hawaii to reorganize the air defenses of the island. General Tinker, highest ranking officer of Indian ancestry in the U.S. Army, set about to bolster his new command because, "In my opinion," he said, "the Air Force will be the controlling factor in all wars, including this one." In January 1942, the general pinned on his second star.
While participating in his planned, long-range, bomber attack against the Japanese on Wake Island, General Tinker's LB-30 bomber fell out of formation and disappeared into the sea. He was the first American general reported lost in action in World War II. The Distinguished Service Medal was awarded posthumously to General Tinker for his gallant action in personally leading the dangerous mission. Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, military governor of Hawaii, said, "He died knowing that he had an important part in winning a great victory."
By order of Gen. H. H. Arnold, Commanding General, Army Air Forces, the Oklahoma City Air Depot was designated Tinker Army Air Field on October 15, 1942 in memory of Maj. Gen. Tinker.