Amid criticism over his burial at Arlington National Cemetery, the widow of former ambassador Larry Lawrence said Monday she will have his body removed from the cemetery and brought to California. She said the Arlington controversy would “preclude his resting there in peace.”
The decision by Shelia Davis Lawrence followed questions about whether Lawrence, who was ambassador to Switzerland at the time of his death in 1996, really served in the Merchant Marine in 1945, and wounded in action, as he had claimed.
Lawrence's war record was a factor in his getting the unusual honor of burial at Arlington, but congressional investigators said last week they had searched military records and found no evidence that Lawrence was ever in the Merchant Marine.
In a letter to President Clinton, Mrs. Lawrence said, “I have decided to bring my late husband, M. Larry Lawrence, home to San Diego for interment.” The superintendent at Arlington Cemetery “will work with the family to honor this request,” the Army said in a statement.
“I remain convinced that Larry's wish to be buried at Arlington was justified by his courageous service as an American Ambassador, even as he suffered from a most painful and ultimately fatal blood disease,” Mrs. Lawrence wrote. “I realize, however, that the controversy of the past few days precludes his resting there in peace.
“Though there is much that I still do not understand about recent events, I and those who knew my husband remember a life that, although not perfect, was indelibly marked by kindness, compassion and love for his community and country,” Mrs. Lawrence wrote.
“No chorus of critics, no matter how loud, will ever change that,” she added.
In response, Clinton wrote Mrs. Lawrence that “I will of course ensure that the Department of Defense accommodates your wishes.” He added, “I know this has been a difficult time for you and I sincerely hope that you find peace in the days ahead.”
The New York Post reported Saturday that 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 furor over Lawrence's burial site erupted last week after Republican investigators were unable to find any records to document his claim of merchant marine service. Lawrence died after three years as ambassador to Switzerland and was provided a waiver to be buried in the nation's most prominent military cemetery.
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 fabricated the World War II service that was cited in his ambassadorial nomination and later used to justify his burial at Arlington.
McCurry, asked whether anyone in the White House had tried to influence Mrs. Lawrence's decision, said, “She has many friends in the administration, but this was her decision to make.” McCurry said he was not aware if Clinton had talked with her since the controversy erupted last week.
Last year, Patrick F. Kennedy, then-assistant secretary of state for administration, asked the Army to approve a waiver for Lawrence because an 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 Marine.
But 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 Rep. Lionel Van Deerlin, said he hand-delivered a package from the Navy to Lawrence at the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego, but Murillo did not know what was inside the unsealed, interoffice envelope.
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard