By Terry M. Neal and Stephen Barr Washington Post Staff Writers Tuesday, December 9, 1997
The wife of the late ambassador M. Larry Lawrence yesterday asked President Clinton to remove her husband's body from Arlington National Cemetery because “the controversy of the past few days precludes his resting there in peace.”
Shelia Davis Lawrence did not address criticism that Lawrence should not be buried in the cemetery because he lied about being in the Merchant Marine during World War II, writing Clinton that her husband's service as ambassador to Switzerland justified his burial there. But she added, “There is much that I still do not understand about recent events.”
In his written reply, Clinton said: “It is with a deep sense of personal sadness that I received your letter this afternoon. I will of course ensure that the Department of Defense accommodates your wishes.”
The controversy over Lawrence's burial grew out of heated exchanges between the White House and conservatives last month over allegations that Clinton had rewarded Democratic donors with plots at Arlington. Lawrence, who died in 1996 at his official residence in Bern, gave about $200,000 to Democrats from 1991 to 1996.
Her request assures that what started as a partisan fracas will not escalate into an emotional debate about whether to exhume the body of a diplomat.
Lawrence was one of 69 individuals in the last five years who received special waivers to be buried in Arlington. Last month, White House and Army officials, citing Lawrence's wartime record, defended their decision to allow him to be interred there.
But last week, House Republican investigators said that a search of military records turned up no evidence to support Lawrence's claim that he served in the Merchant Marine or aboard the SS Horace Bushnell in March 1945 when it was sunk by a German torpedo while part of a convoy headed toward the Russian port of Murmansk.
Some Republicans and veterans groups in recent days raised the prospect that Lawrence's body should be removed from the cemetery, the nation's most hallowed ground for military heroes, if it were proved he fabricated his Merchant Marine background.
Records released yesterday suggest Lawrence was a full-time college student in Chicago during the time he claimed to be aboard the Bushnell.
Ruth Moscovitch, general counsel for the City Colleges of Chicago, said yesterday that “an individual named Maurice Lawrence, with date of birth August 16, 1926,” was enrolled at Wilbur Wright College from September 1994 to June 1945.
Maurice was the late ambassador's first name and the birth date matches the date that Lawrence, who was born in Chicago, provided such publications as Who's Who in American Politics.
On government forms and in conversations with State Department colleagues, Lawrence claimed to have been aboard the Bushnell during the torpedo attack and said he was thrown overboard and suffered serious head injuries.
But a veteran of the Bushnell, Thadeus R. “Ted” Smith, 78, of Troy, Mont., said yesterday he does not remember Lawrence as one of his crew mates. “I do not recall the name or him,” Smith said.
In a telephone interview, Smith described the sinking of the Bushnell and how officers organized teams to go inside the ship to search for survivors. “In all the time that we were searching, we never fished anybody out of the water. And I don't know of anybody that did,” Smith said.
He added, “I remember going down to the water level inside the ship, and there was four or five inches of frost. It is horribly cold up there” in the Arctic Ocean. “Anybody who got into the water, I don't know how they could have survived. Impossible,” Smith said.
After Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.), who heads a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee, questioned whether Lawrence served in the Merchant Marine, Clinton asked the State Department to investigate the late ambassador's record. “This has our highest priority and we are conducting an extremely thorough investigation,” department spokesman James Foley said yesterday. Foley said the investigation would be completed “as soon as possible.”
State Department officials have been examining the forms Lawrence filed for his security clearance as an ambassador and for federal employment. At the time of Lawrence's nomination in 1993, Bureau of Diplomatic Security investigators included a notation in Lawrence's files that they had been unable to verify his Merchant Marine service but decided not to pursue the issue because officials said it had virtually no bearing on his suitability for a security clearance.
Questions also had been raised about whether Lawrence attended and graduated from the University of Arizona, as he had claimed in some biographies.
For instance, in the 1977-78 edition of Who's Who in American Politics, Lawrence claimed to have received a “B.A.” from the school in 1947. The 1987-88 edition of Who's Who in Finance and Industry listed Lawrence as graduating from the University of Arizona in 1948.
State Department sources, however, said Lawrence did not claim to be a graduate of the school on official government documents.
Laura Anderson, a supervisor in the University of Arizona registration office, said yesterday that Lawrence attended the school from the fall of 1945 to the summer of 1947, but “he does not have a degree from this institution. Absolutely not.”
She said his records appeared to indicate attendance at three other schools: North Park College in Chicago, Wright College and the University of Tulsa. The Arizona records do not make clear what dates he attended those schools, she said.
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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