73 Years After Plane Went Missing, Local WW II Pilot Finally Comes Home

A local pilot whose plane went missing during World War II was laid to rest Thursday.

Captain Fulton P. Lanier, was 27 when he was declared missing in action (MIA) on January 31, 1944 after the C-87 he was piloting with a crew of four other Army Air Force crew members went missing after taking off from Kunming, China.

Lanier’s flight path, known as the Burmese Hump, was extremely dangerous. It was a 6-1/2 hour trip where the plane had to travel over a tall mountain top. Flight records show it was becoming routine for the Buies Creek native having flown the mission once every 3 days and this was about his 30th flight over the Burmese Hump.

The C-87, a heavy cargo and personnel transport plane which was known by pilots not to climb well when fully loaded, was never seen or heard from after departing from Kunming, and it never arrived at its destination in Jorhat, India. The U.S. Army issued a Finding of Death in January 1946.

In 1993 and 1994, Chinese and American cooperative efforts led to the recovery of wreckage and remains of the crew of a World War II American C-87 that crashed into a glacier in Tibet. Material evidence and remains were turned over to the Central Identification Laboratory-Hawaii/ Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. This led to both a group identification and burial, which included Captain Lanier, and individual identification and burial of the other four crew members at Arlington National Cemetery in January 1998.

In August 2015 a Chinese newspaper noted that remains were recovered between July 31st and August 8th, 2015 by professionals at a site in Tibet. Based on research by military analysts, the remains were believed to be associated with the previously excavated site for Captain Lanier’s air crew. In October 2015 the remains were formally turned over to the U.S. Advanced DNA testing was conducted and the remains were positively identified as those of Lanier.

His remains were returned to North Carolina this week. A ceremony was held Thursday afternoon at O-Quinn-Peebles-Phillips Funeral Home in Lillington.  Burial with full military honors was held at Harnett Memorial Park in Lillington.  During the service his niece was presented with several military Awards and Medals.

Captain Fulton P. Lanier is survived by his nieces and nephews, Virginia Lanier Powers of Wilmington, Billy Worth Lanier of Erwin, Franklin Fulton Lanier of Buies Creek, William Stephen Lanier of Beaufort, SC, Dr. David Charles Lanier of Chapel Hill, Bobby Lanier of Newport News, Virginia, and Nancy Lanier Player of Florence, SC.

Lanier went to junior college for two years at Campbell where he played football then he went to Lenoir Rhyne. His football coach at Campbell, Coach Stachovich, left Campbell to go to Lenoir Rhyne and Fulton followed him there to continue playing football.

Lanier was so small as a child he was called “Runt.”  He later grew up to be 6 feet tall. His memory and legacy are now larger than life for the Harnett County war hero who was finally buried near his home 73 years after being declared MIA.    (With information from O’quinn-Peebles-Phillips Funeral Home)