“We are finally bringing him home to his own turf, where he belongs.”
— Retired Superior Court Judge Frank Lanier
By TOM WOERNER
Of The Record Staff
It has taken more than 70 years, but a fallen Harnett County war hero is on his way back home after his remains were recently positively identified.
Capt. Fulton Lanier, a native of the Buies Creek area, went missing in January 1944 while flying a dangerous supply transport route to China known as “The Hump.” A high percentage of pilots on the route never returned from their mission. The plane he was co-piloting ran into a mountain, killing all five crew members.
According to Mr. Lanier’s nephew, retired Superior Court Judge Frank Lanier of Buies Creek, skeletal remains found in a Tibetian glacier have been identified as those of Capt. Lanier.
The captain’s plane was originally found in the 1990s, according to Judge Lanier. The modern DNA technology was not available at the time so there was no positive identification made on Capt. Lanier.
A memorial service for the entire crew, with some remains buried in a single coffin, was held at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington, D.C. Services were not held locally for Capt. Lanier because there were no identifiable remains.
When more remains were found, plans changed. In addition to the human remains, other equipment and clothing, determined to be owned by Capt. Lanier, were also found.
Proper ceremonies for the war hero will be held later this month when a service is held when Capt.
Lanier’s remains arrive back in the United States. A second memorial service will be held Sept. 28 at Lillington’s O’Quinn-Peebles- Phillips Funeral Home.
He will be buried at Harnett Memorial Park in Lillington. The service will be held at 3 p.m.
The service will be a long-awaited relief for family members, who long ago accepted Capt. Lanier’s remains may have never been found.
“He will be back with his mother and father and that is where he needs to be,” Judge Lanier said.
Capt. Lanier’s burial plot is adjacent to those of his family.
Capt. Lanier, nicknamed Runt by friends and family because he was the youngest of his siblings, flew the dangerous route called “The Hump” during the war. Judge Lanier said as many as 85 percent of those who attempted the route did not return.
The planes Capt. Lanier flew were bringing needed food and medicine to Chinese Nationalist troops fighting the Japanese. The flights were necessary because the Japanese Army controlled almost all roadways in the area.
He was 27 years old at the time. His plane crashed in what witnesses described as a cold, monsoon storm.
The crew had delivered its load of supplies and was on the way back to their home base at the time of the accident. The crash remains were found nearly 300 miles off the course on which the plane was supposed to fly.
“He made it to India, but he never made it back,” Judge Lanier said.
The original wreckage was found by Tibetian hunters. The skeletal remains were later found by others in the area.
Capt. Lanier had returned to the far east voluntarily to help train other pilots. Judge Lanier said a note sent to family said the captain “wanted to get out of here before these rookies kill me.”
He last visited Buies Creek in June of 1943, approximately six months before he died.
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