By BRIAN BLOMQUIST, Washington Post



Larry Lawrence's body and coffin were quietly dug up at Arlington National Cemetery yesterday and flown home to San Diego for a burial better suited to a rich hotel owner.

Military and park police, including snipers, were brought in to provide security during the four-hour exhumation, which began at 7 a.m., an hour before the cemetery opened.

Visitors to the nation's cemetery for war heroes were kept away from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which is near Lawrence's grave site, during the removal.

Two gravediggers hired by the Lawrence family removed the coffin and placed it in a waiting hearse, which left the cemetery with a police escort.

A funeral worker told The Post Lawrence was taken straight from the cemetery to the airport.

As the hole was refilled, a dozen cemetery workers and officials milled about the scene – trying to prevent anyone from witnessing the last chapter of a story that embarrassed Lawrence's survivors and Clinton administration officials who pushed for the burial at Arlington.

Lawrence died last year at 69 while he was ambassador to Switzerland. He became the center of the Gravegate controversy when it was discovered he apparently fabricated a story about being a seaman on a merchant marine supply ship that was struck by a torpedo in World War II.

Lawrence claimed he was thrown overboard by the explosion and suffered a head injury.

The merchant marine records office says it can find no record of Lawrence's service, and Wilbur Wright Junior College in Chicago says its records show Lawrence was a full-time student there in March 1945, when he claimed he was on the SS Horace Bushnell.

Shelia Davis Lawrence asked the Army on Monday to let her remove her husband's body from the cemetery as the controversy worsened.

Veterans seemed satisfied by the removal and hopeful the same mistake won't happen again.

“Arlington should be above the constant political din that we hear in this city,” said Mike Schlee of the American Legion. “By and large, what we're hearing is that this is a special place where the normal rules of politics do not apply.”

Like Lawrence's funeral last year, at which President Clinton delivered a eulogy, the removal was conducted privately.

Standing across from the exhumation was a U.S. Park Service police sniper who said he was there “to protect the privacy of the family.”

“The family wanted it to be very private. They didn't want anyone around. They wanted it to be done very secretly. In order to do that, we needed to restrict that area,” said Army spokeswoman Adrien Creecy.

The funeral director at Arlington Funeral Home, who handled the disinterment, said, “I'm not at liberty to give out any details.”

A congressional panel is investigating the process of granting “waivers” for burial in Arlington to those who don't automatically qualify.

Burial in Arlington is automatic for highly decorated veterans, veterans with 20 years of service, veterans killed in action and presidents.

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment