Will Ambassador Be Disinterred – By George Gedda Associated Press Writer

The White House says it won't be rushed into a decision on whether the remains of the late Ambassador M. Larry Lawrence should be removed from Arlington National Cemetery if his claims about World War II service in the merchant marines prove untrue.

Arlington “is a place of sacred honor to all Americans, and no one should be buried there who has falsified records,” spokesman Mike McCurry said Friday.

McCurry turned away questions on whether someone's remains should be removed if it turned out he lied about his record.

“What the circumstances are and the truth is here, you know, you may rush to interpret but we won't,” he said.

McCurry spoke after President Clinton ordered an investigation into whether Lawrence, a major Democratic donor, fabricated the World War II service that later was used to justify his burial at Arlington.

At the same time, Clinton defended State Department officials who recommended burial at Arlington, saying, “They acted on the facts as they knew them” concerning Lawrence's claimed wartime service.

Last year, Patrick F. Kennedy, then-assistant secretary of state for administration, asked the Army to approve a waiver for Lawrence because his injury while in the service would have earned him a Purple Heart, entitling him to be buried at Arlington.

Kennedy's information was based partially on what he learned from another assistant secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke. McCurry said campaign donations were not considered.

The State Department sought to minimize the issue by saying that the truthfulness of Lawrence's claims about wartime service was not relevant to his obtaining a security clearance to become ambassador to Switzerland. He died in 1996 after serving as ambassador for three years.

The furor over whether Lawrence was entitled to burial in Arlington erupted Thursday after Republican investigators were unable to find any records to document his claim that he was a merchant marine.

Lawrence maintained that his merchant marine ship was torpedoed in March 1945 off the Russian coast, severely injuring his head and tossing him into icy Arctic waters. He would have been 18 at the time.

The chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs investigations subcommittee, Rep. Terry Everett, R-Ala., said military records did not show a Larry Lawrence on the SS Horace Bushnell or even in the merchant marine.

Today's edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune quotes a former Congressional aide who says he personally delivered Lawrence's wartime records to him two decades ago.

Rudy Murillo, an aide to former Democratic congressman Lionel Van Deerlin, told the paper that he hand-delivered a manila envelope from the U.S. Navy to Lawrence. According to Murillo, Lawrence had sought after his war records for some time before a naval officer brought an envelope of documents to Van Deerlin's office.

Murillo, who handed the envelope off to Lawrence at a hotel, said he never looked at the papers inside it and is not sure the envelope was ever returned. State Department spokesman James Foley acknowledged that Lawrence, during his security clearance process four years ago, indicated that he had volunteered for the merchant marines during World War II.

But when the department's diplomatic security service tried to verify the information with merchant marine sources, no supporting evidence was turned up, Foley said.

“And as the information was 50 years old and did not have bearing on his suitability to serve as a U.S. ambassador, it wasn't pursued further at that time,” he said.

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