Remains Returned November 3, 1988

Name: Clarence Orfield Tolbert
Rank/Branch: O6/US Navy
Unit: Attack Squadron 56, USS MIDWAY (CVA-41)
Date of Birth: 04 June 1939
Home City of Record: Tishomingo OK
Date of Loss: 06 November 1972
Country of Loss: North Vietnam
Loss Coordinates: 191358N 1054459E (WG791262)
Status (in 1973): Missing In Action
Category: 2
Aircraft/Vehicle/Ground: A7B
Refno: 1943
Other Personnel in Incident: (none missing)

Source: Compiled from one or more of the following: raw data from U.S.
Government agency sources, correspondence with POW/MIA families, published
sources, interviews. Updated by the P.O.W. NETWORK in 2020.


SYNOPSIS: Commander Clarence O. Tolbert was a pilot assigned to Attack
Squadron 56 onboard the aircraft carrier USS MIDWAY. On November 6, 1972,
Tolbert launched in his A7B "Corsair" in a flight of two on a reconnaissance
mission into Nghe An Province, North Vietnam. The aircraft was hit by
anti-aircraft fire in the starboard wing during the mission.

Commander Tolbert immediately turned the aircraft towards the coast (the
favored evasion route), just as it caught fire. The fire went out within
seconds but the aircraft continued to stream fuel. Within 1 1/2 miles from
the coast the flight controls apparently froze and the aircraft impacted the
ground in a flat spin.

Tolbert's wingman observed the aircraft from the time it was hit until
impact with the ground and observed no ejection or parachute. No radio
communication was established during the whole episode. An active search and
rescue effort was discontinued due to lack of visual or voice contact.

An article appeared in the November 15, 1972 edition of Nhan Dan newspaper
in Hanoi which stated that the Vietnamese forces had shot down a U.S.
aircraft on that date and that the pilot ejected but the parachute did not

Almost 16 years to the day later, the Vietnamese "discovered" the remains of
Commander Tolbert and returned them to U.S. control. Even though Vietnamese
soldiers had observed Tolbert's ejection and knew the precise location of
the crash of his aircraft, for 16 years, the Vietnamese denied any knowledge
of his fate.

The U.S. Government believes progress is being made on the issue of the
missing, prisoner and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia. Perhaps it has
taken 16 years of delicate negotiations to motivate the Vietnamese to honor
the pledge they made in Paris in 1973 to return all POWs and account for as
many of the missing as possible.

The U.S. Government has received over the years nearly 10,000 reports
concerning missing Americans. Many authorities believe, based on these
reports and other information, that there are hundreds of Americans still
alive and captive in Southeast Asia, but their freedom seems beyond our



On 1/26/2003 8:09 PM, wrote:

To the family of LCDR Smokey Tolbert. I am 46 years old and have had your loved ones bracelet since the early 70's. I remember wearing it for
what appeared to be forever when I first got it. All these years I have kept it and run across it from time to time. Tonight as I found it, I decided
to search the Internet to check the status of Mr. Tolbert. I am thrilled to find out that his remains were returned to you in 1988. If anyone in your
 family wishes me to return his bracelet I will be happy to do so upon request. If not, I will continue to keep it as a reminder of what a courageous
man Cmdr Tolbert was. I have a daughter who is in the Navy JAG, and is deployed at this time. I know what a great sense of pride it is for her
to serve our country, and am very proud of her. God Bless.

                                                           Rita Phillips

Sleep peacefully tonight for somewhere in the depths of the ocean my daughter is protecting your freedom.


February 16, 2016,  Shawna Simpson wrote:

Clarence Orfield Tolbert, better know as Smokey to most was KIA and the remains have been returned.  Inquiring if anyone has a
pow/mia bracelet with his name?
He is my great uncle. My grandmother was his sister.  I received all his information that my grandmother
received when he went MIA.  I have many pictures, his medals, his flag, his naval sweater, and his blue angel memorabilia.  I am searching
for his POW/MIA bracelet to put with my display in my home.  I have all the documents of his event when shot down and we received
his remains back in 88.  He is buried next to my grandmother in troy cemetery new Tishamingo, Oklahoma.







Return to Service Member Profiles

On February 17, 1989, the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii (CILHI, now DPAA) identified the remains of Commander Clarence Orfield Tolbert, missing from the Vietnam War.

Commander Tolbert joined the U.S. Navy from Oklahoma and was a member of Attack Squadron 56. On November 6, 1972, he piloted an A-7 Corsair II (bureau number 15-4540) on a road reconnaissance mission near Quynh Luu District, Vietnam. CDR Tolbert's aircraft was downed by anti-aircraft fire during the mission, and he was killed in the crash. Immediate search efforts failed to locate the Corsair's crash site. In November 1988, the Vietnamese government returned a set of remains to U.S. custody that were eventually identified as those of CDR Tolbert.

Commander Tolbert is memorialized on the Courts of the Missing at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. 

If you are a family member of this serviceman, you may contact your casualty office representative to learn more about your service member.