Sampson Middle School social studies teacher Kenan Lanier has always had an interest in history, and most especially World War II. Lanier recently talked with a group of eighth grade students about his uncle, who was killed more than seven decades ago in the war.
Captain Fulton Pershing Lanier was killed in action in 1944 as he was flying a mission that was part of a 530-mile passage over India and China. Lanier served as the pilot of a C-87 Liberator that carried cargo and people throughout the various countries involved in the war.
The Army captain’s remains were recently returned to his family, and he received proper burial after a decades old mystery unveiled.
“This is really a neat story that means a lot to me and my family,” Lanier said.
According to Lanier, his great uncle had flown dozens of missions between China and India, delivering supplies to the Allied troops. On Jan. 31, 1944, just as the plane was making a return trip to India, all communication ceased and the pilot and crew were never heard from again.
The WWII veteran was just 27 years old at the time.
“There is evidence that there was poor flight conditions that night,” Lanier told the students. “It was unknown at the time if they were captured or if the plane went down.”
For 50 years, the Lanier family could only assume their loved one was dead.
In 1994, light was shed on the mystery, as parts of the missing plane and some of the remains of those on board was found in Tibet, China.
Following the discovery, the remains were sent to forensic labs to identify the bodies. Items belonging to Lanier and evidence from the plane allowed military personnel to determine the plane was the one that crashed 50 years earlier.
The remains that were discovered in 1994 were buried together in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. with full military honors.
Technology wasn’t as advanced 23 years ago, and the DNA testing took some time to return. Once it did, the social studies teacher said it proved that the remains that had been found a few years earlier did in fact belong to the other four crew members, but no remains were matched to the captain.
In 2015, additional artifacts and remains were found at the crash site. Two years later, in 2017, those remains were positively identified as those of Captain Fulton Pershing Lanier, who was killed in action more than 70 years ago.
“It took 73 years for him to be found,” Lanier explained.
The remains were flown into Raleigh-Durham International Airport and escorted to Lillington, where Lanier has since been buried with his family.
Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.