'Buck' Lanier, war hero, assistant state's attorney

September 03, 1995|By Donna R. Engle | Donna R. Engle,Sun Staff Writer

Severn E. "Buck" Lanier, who packed experiences ranging from barge pilot to Navy underwater demolition team member to Baltimore County assistant state's attorney into 72 years of life, died Thursday of a heart attack at the Lorien Columbia Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Mr. Lanier, an Ellicott City resident, was an assistant Baltimore County state's attorney from 1969 to 1976, working with State's Attorney Samuel A. Green Jr. Mr. Lanier was in private practice in Dundalk for nearly 20 years.

His daughter, Margaret Lanier, of Ellicott City said her father could put people at all levels at ease "because he walked through so many paths."

Born in Baltimore, Mr. Lanier made All-Maryland football and basketball teams at Southern High School. During his early college years at Loyola College, he worked as a barge captain, hauling coal across the harbor for the Western Maryland Railway When World War II broke out, he finished his degree at Northwestern University under an officers' training program, entering the Navy in 1943 as an ensign.

He was one of the skilled swimmers chosen for the underwater demolition teams that cleared minefields and blasted debris so troops could land as Americans moved across the Pacific, recapturing islands the Japanese had taken. The teams, armed only with knives and wearing helmets, swim trunks and swim fins, had to work quickly and quietly, sometimes within sight of the enemy.

A photo caption in The Sun Sept. 30, 1945, showed a grinning Ensign Lanier pointing out the spot on his helmet hit by a Japanese shell. The shell hit as he was about to go overboard for a mission, Ms. Lanier said. He received eight medals, including a Bronze Star. He was among the first to go ashore at Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped.

Mr. Lanier was offered a Purple Heart, but turned it down because he knew his parents would be notified that he had been wounded and didn't want them to be alarmed.

Ms. Lanier recalled her father telling about how his team used to tweak the Marines, who always took pride in being the first to land. The underwater team would leave signs on the beaches reading, "Welcome, U.S. Marines."

He was promoted to lieutenant junior grade and served briefly after the war as welfare and recreation officer at the Naval Base in San Diego. Returning to Maryland, he entered the University of Maryland School of Law and graduated in 1949.

Mr. Lanier began his career as a United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. staff lawyer, then entered private practice after two years. After leaving the state's attorney's office, he became chief counsel to the Maryland Department of Economic and Community Development's board of appeals, where he served until his retirement in 1987.

A mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 9 a.m. tomorrow in St. Paul's Catholic Church, Ellicott City.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. Lanier is survived by his wife, Harriet Allen Lanier; and a brother, W. B. Lanier of Linthicum.

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