Chief Warrant Officer
Wayne Lanier's Purple Heart
medal. Below: Lanier’s
parents, Dayton Jay Lanier
and Elma Toney Lanier, pin
the rank on his uniform at
flight school graduation in
Fort Rucker, Alabama, on
June 30, 1967.
start a remarkable stamp collection. But, above all, he was fascinated with flying. He
spent many hours meticulously building and flying model airplanes. His sleek, per-fectly
balanced planes — Fairchilds, Pipers and Cessnas — were works of art built by
a prospective young engineer.
Never immune to risk taking, early on he demonstrated a competitive nature. Where
he learned the rudiments of marble shooting is a mystery, but he was a renowned crack
shot even in grade school as evidenced by his winnings. His friends of that era said
that he would fashion a circle on the playground before school, at recess, or after class
and take on any challengers. The results are literally thousands of multicolored “taws,”
“mibs,” “ducks” and “cat-eye” marbles that sparkle and wink from huge glass jars that
remain today in his extraordinary collection.
His 1958 New Hanover High School Yearbook, “The Wildcat,” stated that he was a
member of the Latin Club, the NHHS Marching Band, ROTC, the Sergeants Club, the
Swimming Team, the NHHS Dance Band, and the Government Club. An athlete, he
played Little League baseball in Wilmington, was an outstanding swimmer and water-skier
and, for two years, was a lifeguard at Wrightsville Beach.
After graduating from New Hanover High, Lanier entered N.C. State University
where he studied civil engineering and was a pledge at Sigma Phi Epsilon
Fraternity. Local and regional bands provided the music on campus, and none was
more popular than The Tassels with whom Lanier could be found on weekends playing
everything from jazz to beach music on his Selmer saxophone. Fellow band members
said he had a fantastic repertoire of popular songs and could walk into a jam session and
recognize any lyric, any tempo, any measure and begin to play, never missing a beat.
For three years Lanier studied civil engineering at N.C. State but, eventually, his
music took precedence over college. As the Vietnam War loomed large, his draft num-ber
was just weeks away so, in May of 1966, he joined the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division
(Airmobile), the first full U.S. Army division deployed to Vietnam. It was natural that
he would be a pilot — and with his math ability and strong sense of mission, he would
be one of the very best.