‘Hero’ Likely in School, Not War

The late Ambassador M. Larry Lawrence was a full-time college student in March 1945 — the same month the Democratic campaign contributor claimed he was a merchant marine on a ship torpedoed off the Russian coast, the New York Post reported Saturday.

Citing documents from Wilbur Wright Junior College in Chicago, the Post said Lawrence was taking at least 12 hours of classes per week between January and June 1945.

That would contradict the claims that helped land Lawrence a gravesite in the Arlington National Cemetery. The White House, caught in the middle of the flap, has not said whether it would ask that Lawrence's remains be disinterred if his story is proven false.

The furor over Lawrence's burial site erupted Thursday after Republican investigators were unable to find any records to document his claim of merchant marine service. Lawrence died in 1996 after three years as ambassador to Switzerland.

On Friday, White House spokesman Mike McCurry acknowledged that Arlington was “a place of sacred honor to all Americans, and no one should be buried there who has falsified records.”

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

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.

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. The medal would entitle him to an Arlington burial.

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 marines.

In a telephone interview Saturday from his San Diego home, a former Congressional aide with ties to the U.S. Navy said Lawrence in 1977 asked for help in obtaining his service records.

Rudy Murillo, then-aide to former Democratic congressman Lionel Van Deerlin, said he hand delivered a package from the Navy to Lawrence at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, but Murillo was unsure what was inside the unsealed, interoffice envelope.

“They were service records of some sort, but I'm not sure whether they were Merchant Marine, Navy, first man on the moon or whatever,” Murillo told The Associated Press. “I was tempted to look inside, but I didn't.”

Murillo, now special assistant to the district director for the Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Diego, said he has no doubt they were service records of some kind.

“If there were no records, they would have called us and said there were no records, but we got something,” Murillo said.

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