Clarence Tolbert was born on June 4, 1939, in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in June 1958, and graduated with a commission as an Ensign on June 6, 1962. Tolbert remained at the Naval Academy as a Physical Education Instructor until September 1962, and then served aboard the attack cargo ship USS Arneb (AKA-56) until December 1962, when he entered flight training. He was designated a Naval Aviator on May 15, 1964, and then attended Replacement Air Group training in the A-4 Skyhawk with Attack Squadron 125 at NAS Lemoore, California, until September 1964. LT Tolbert next flew with VA-216 from September 1964 to December 1967, where he flew 145 combat missions in Southeast Asia off the aircraft carrier USS Hancock (CVA-19) between November 1964 and August 1966. His next assignment was as an Instructor Pilot with VA-122 at NAS Lemoore during January and February 1968, followed by service as a flight demonstration pilot with the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, flying the F11F-1 Tiger, from February to December 1968. From January to September 1969, he served as a Project Manager with the Naval Weapons Evaluation Facility at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, and then left active duty in October 1969. LT Tolbert served in the Naval Reserve with VF-202 at NAS Dallas, Texas, from October 1969 to November 1970, and then returned to active duty, serving as an Instrument Flight Instructor with VA-43 at NAS Oceana, Virginia, from November 1970 to January 1972. CDR Tolbert next trained in the A-7 Corsair II with VA-174 at NAS Cecil Field, Florida, from January to June 1972, followed by service with VA-56 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Midway (CVA-41), from June 1972 until he was killed in action over North Vietnam on November 6, 1972. He was listed as Missing in Action until being declared dead on March 23, 1978. During this time, Tolbert was promoted to Captain. His remains were returned on November 3, 1988, and he was buried at the Troy Cemetery in Johnston County, Oklahoma.
His Silver Star Citation reads:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action on 1 May 1966 as a pilot in Attack Squadron TWO HUNDRED SIXTEEN, embarked in USS HANCOCK (CVA-19), during a strike against an enemy surface-to-air missile site in North Vietnam. Lieutenant Tolbert provided essential intelligence regarding the location of the missile site and its defenses, voluntarily piloted his aircraft as the strike leader's wingman and deliberately exposed himself to a missile firing in order to determine the exact location of the launching site. In the face of an intense barrage of medium antiaircraft fire, he made repeated bombing attacks on the site, inflicting heavy damage to several missile launchers. When his aircraft was severely crippled by two successive multiple-round antiaircraft bursts, Lieutenant Tolbert displayed unusual resourcefulness and exceptional airmanship in bringing the aircraft aboard ship to a safe landing using emergency manual flight controls. His courageous actions and outstanding performance in the face of intense enemy fire reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.