UNION CITY, TENN — Governor Bill Lee has declared March 2 a day of mourning for Lieutenant Richard C. “Tito” Lannom, Missing in Action since March 1, 1968. As state flags fly at half-staff across Tennessee, family and friends who waited 51 years and a day will finally lay to rest the hometown high school athlete, University of Tennessee at Martin graduate, Naval commander, friend, uncle, cousin and husband who they now know was Killed in Action in Vietnam when he was only 27-years-old.
Visitation will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Discovery Park of America (DPA) at 830 Everett Boulevard in Union City, Tenn. on Sat., March 2, with funeral services beginning at 1 p.m. Immediately following the service, a processional including city, county and state law enforcement; military support organizations such as Rolling Thunder, Patriot Guard and the American Legion Riders; dignitaries, friends and family will travel from DPA to the East View Cemetery, (S. Miles Avenue and E. Church Street) for a graveside ceremony with full military honors.
“Union City is the only home Tito ever really knew,” said his widow Charlotte Shaw who has planned the day’s events with family members including nephew John Lannom of Dyersburg. She noted that when Lannom graduated from UTM, they married and went to various Naval bases for training after which he was deployed to Vietnam. The couple, he from Union City and she from Memphis, never had the opportunity to put down permanent roots.
“He loved being from a small town. I wanted him to return to the home he loved,” she said.
Shaw, eventually remarried, after spending the first years post notification of Lannom’s MIA status as an advocate for his return including helping to spearhead a letter writing campaign of nearly a half-a-million letters and personally delivering them to the North Vietnam embassy in Paris. Jackie, her husband of 40 years, and their blended family of five children and ten grandchildren have always felt “Tito” was a part of their lives and many are taking roles in the service.
As a part of the day’s activities, Discovery Park has worked with White Ranson & White Mahon Funeral Homes and Magnolia Place Assisted Living, donors of the Vietnam War Memorial stationed in the park’s Military Garden, to update the monument that lists Lannom as Obion County’s only MIA in a manner similar to updates on the nation’s Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. A brief service unveiling the change is planned for 11 a.m. during the visitation period.
“We are honored to be a small part of what should be a grand day paying tribute to both Lt. Lannom and to the family and friends who have finally found resolution after decades of living with the unknown,” said Discovery Park CEO Scott Williams. “We hope West Tennessee will turn out in force to memorialize their neighbor. We stand ready to receive what we anticipate will be an overflow crowd of those who knew Lt. Lannom and those who simply want to convey their respect and gratitude to a fallen soldier and his family.”
Also included in the service will be photos and artifacts acknowledging the military career of the Obion County native who was assigned to Attack Squadron Three Five, USS Enterprise when his A-6A aircraft went missing during a night mission over North Vietnam. Lannom and the pilot were declared missing after a search and rescue mission failed to locate the plane.
“Lt. Lannom’s final resting place will finally be home, on Tennessee soil, where he belongs…”
A Vietnamese Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP) team excavated a crash site in late 2017. Lannom was identified on Sept. 25, 2018 through the use of DNA as well as evidence found at the site.
“Lt. Lannom’s final resting place will finally be home, on Tennessee soil, where he belongs,” Gov. Lee said in a press release issued by Tennessee Department of Veterans Services. “We are grateful to join the Lannom family in pausing to remember and recognize Lt. Lannom’s sacrifice for our state and country.”
Veterans Services Commissioner Courtney Rogers will be in attendance at the funeral and will present official tribute items on behalf of the state and the governor including a house joint resolution sponsored by area state Representative Andy Holt and Senator John Stevens and presented to the Tennessee General Assembly to honor and memorialize Lannom and his family for his service and dedication.
Reflecting on his efforts to assist with tributes to be shared with Lannom and his family, Rep. Holt said, “The opportunity to see Lt. Lannom laid to rest in his native land is not only a satisfying accomplishment, but it is an event that brings decades of uncertainty, heartbrokenness, and the resting of his earthly remains to a point of final closure.”
“More than five decades of waiting is finally over, and we are finally able to lay this Tennessee hero to rest with full honors…”
He called Lannom an American hero and added that his sacrifice, and the sacrifice of countless other servicemen, should never be forgotten. Observing the collective effort that is being devoted to ensuring a service worthy of the fallen soldier, he concluded, “I feel quite confident that Lt. Lannom will not suffer the second death of being forgotten.”
Commissioner Rogers also referenced Lannom’s heroism and offered encouragement for communitywide involvement in her remarks.
“More than five decades of waiting is finally over, and we are finally able to lay this Tennessee hero to rest with full honors,” Rogers said. “There is no way we can repay the debt of Lt. Lannom’s sacrifice, but we can give our commitment to remember his courage and to honor his family with our condolences and support. “
ABOUT DISCOVERY PARK OF AMERICA
The mission of Discovery Park of America, a premier world-class museum and 50-acre attraction located in Union City, Tennessee, is to enhance the educational experience of children and adults and to inspire them to learn more about the region’s unique cultural heritage and natural history. Included is a 100,000-square-foot museum featuring nine interactive exhibit galleries with additional space for temporary exhibits from around the world and a 50-acre heritage park. Discovery Park of America is a 501(c)(3) public charity funded by generous individuals, corporations and foundations including its principal funder, the Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland Foundation. For more information, visit DiscoveryParkofAmerica.com and DPA’s pages on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.