Otis Vincent Tolbert
Lieutenant Commander, United States Navy
Courtesy of the Washington Post
'These Guys Are Heroes Every Day'
Commander Tolbert was a former college football running back who wrote intelligence briefings for the chief of naval operations. He was such an astute football expert that he had been temporarily banned from the office football pool, his wife recalled recently. But his friends, despite knowing he would win, relented before the season began.
Commander Tolbert, a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, was also known as a hardworking naval officer who regularly showed up at his Pentagon office at 3:30 a.m. He would then head home in the afternoon to care for his daughter, Brittany, 7, who had cerebral palsy.
She was present yesterday, along with Tolbert's wife, Shari, and his other children, Amanda, 9, and Anthony, 18 months.
"These guys are heroes every day," his wife said in a recent interview. "It's not just when a plane hits their building. It's a shame the only time they get that honor is when they are in the ground."
Commander Todd Ross, a friend of Tolbert's, agreed yesterday: "He was a hero long before the 11th of September. Vince was a hero every single day. He was a hero to his family, his friends and his professional peers."
Not for away, Commander Patrick
Dunn , also a victim of the terrorist attack was also being laid to
Lieutenant Commander Otis Vincent Tolbert Jr. spent his whole life honoring his father -- on the football field, in the classroom and as a military man in the Navy.
His father had been a naval officer before him, one of the first black pilots to fly an A-7 jet. And it was that same kind of determination that put the 39-year-old Tolbert in the Pentagon.
He grew up in San Joaquin Valley, in the shadow of Lemoore Naval Air Station. His father, Lieuenant Otis Vincent Tolbert Sr., a flight instructor and company commander at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, moved the family to California in the mid 1970s.
Lemoore was a small cotton and dairy town that lived for its Friday night football. Tolbert, "Big O" to his high school coaches and teammates, was a star fullback and defensive end on a championship team. His talents took him to Cal State Fresno on a scholarship.
"He was a very good football player, but he was a lot more than that," said Dr. Jesse Liscomb, a Navy flight surgeon who lived across the street from the Tolberts. "He was a scholar and a leader by example and one of finest young men I ever knew. This isn't grief talking. He was one of this country's gems."
Tolbert wanted to follow in his father's footsteps to become a Navy pilot. But his knees didn't pass muster, so he had to take another route. He joined the Navy and helped escort battle carriers through the seas as an intelligence officer.
A promotion landed him inside the Pentagon, an 8-to-5 workday that gave him time with his wife, Sherrie, and their three children.
His father eventually retired from the Navy as a Commander and became a pilot for United Airlines, working out of Chicago, Tokyo and most recently San Francisco.
He had trained scores of pilots to fly the
Boeing 757 commercial jet, the same type of plane that crashed into the
southwest side of the Pentagon on Tuesday morning.
He had always wished to fly, ruing the knee injury that prevented it.
But Otis Vincent Tolbert could be no ordinary angel, retired Navy Commander Don Olivier told mourners at Bell Shoals Baptist Church Sunday night.
Instead of wings, he would wear a heavenly F-18.
Tolbert, a Navy intelligence officer who died in the September 11 Pentagon attack, was remembered at a service in Brandon attended by more than 100 civilians and military personnel.
Some wore uniforms, representing the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. Many knew Tolbert from U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, where he worked until March 2000, when he moved to Virginia with his wife, Shari.
The Tolberts had attended the Brandon church.
"Shari, Vince is with the only one who could
love him more than you do, and that is
Shari Tolbert, who buried her husband at Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday but came to Tampa to embrace a community of friends, took the lectern to read Psalm 27 from the Bible.
"When evil men advance against me,'' it began.
Strong men wept, choked by grief, among them Dean Chalk.
"Vince made you feel good and he made you feel
loved and he made you feel
There were a few moments of laughter, some
arising as Olivier reminisced about a
"Vince just knew what had to be done,'' he
said, "and he had it done before I asked him to do it.'"
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 27 June 2003