Ambassador Disinterred At Arlington – Joyce Howard Price, The Washington Times – 12 December 1997

The body of former Ambassador M. Larry Lawrence was removed from Arlington National Cemetery Thursday and his burial headstone destroyed, Pentagon officials said. “I'm told he was disinterred around 7 a.m.” and that “his headstone was destroyed by his family,” Lt. Col. William H. Harkey, an Army spokesman, said Thursday.

Mr. Lawrence's body was removed at the request of his widow, Shelia Davis Lawrence, who sought to quiet a storm sparked by disclosures that her husband may have secured a spot at the cemetery in part through faked claims that he was wounded in combat in the U.S. merchant marine in World War II.

John Gibbons, a Washington spokesman for the Lawrence family, said the ambassador's body was sent home to San Diego, where he was a successful developer and hotel owner who raised millions of dollars for the Democratic Party. Mr. Gibbons declined to discuss the fate of Mr. Lawrence's tombstone or provide any other specific information about the disinterment. “We're not releasing any details,” he said.

Mr. Lawrence died in 1996 and did not meet strict admission standards for burial in Arlington, which include long active service or a war wound. But Army Secretary Togo West granted the Lawrence family a waiver based on Mr. Lawrence's war claims and his status as ambassador to Switzerland. The politically active Mr. Lawrence and his companies donated nearly $200,000 to President Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. Mr. Lawrence said he sustained severe head injuries and was tossed overboard into frigid arctic waters when his merchant marine vessel was torpedoed off the coast of Russia in March 1945. But Rep. Terry Everett, the Alabama Republican who chairs a House subcommittee that has been investigating burial waivers at Arlington, said last week his investigators found no evidence that Mr. Lawrence was on the ship when it was torpedoed or that he was ever in the merchant marine.

Angry veterans pointed out that Mr. Lawrence's large brown monument — which identified Mr. Lawrence as “S1C” — that is, Seaman First Class — “U.S. MERCHANT MARINE,” stood out from the more modest white and black monuments that surrounded it. The designation, S1C, had some merchant marine veterans scratching their heads Thursday. “I've never seen that” rank for someone in the merchant marine, said Tom Fraley, secretary of the Florida-based American Merchant Marine Veterans.

Mr. Everett's revelations about Mr. Lawrence were a major embarrassment for the White House. When they first came to light, President Clinton ordered the State Department to investigate Mr. Lawrence's service record. “We expect it to be finished very shortly,” Andy Laine, spokesman for the department's Office of Diplomatic Security, said Thursday. Another source said the results of the probe could be announced Friday. Veterans groups Thursday hailed the news that Mr. Lawrence no longer lies amid the war heroes at Arlington. “We hoped he would be removed when it was established he had falsified his military records,” said Mike Schlee, a spokesman for the American Legion. Even before news of the disinterment, John E. Moon, commander-in-chief of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, issued a statement calling for Mr. Lawrence's removal.

Mr. Moon said nonmilitary waivers for burial in Arlington should be granted “only in the most unusual of circumstances and in conformance with the highest standards.” Mr. Lawrence's “service as an ambassador does not warrant a waiver,” the VFW head said. The American Legion, the VFW and the Retired Officers Association all want Mr. Everett's subcommittee to continue its investigation of Arlington burial waivers. They also say tighter guidelines need to be developed for determining when such waivers are granted. Col. Harkey, the Army spokesman, said there are “six to 12 disinterments” yearly at Arlington. He said they usually occur at the request of families, who want to be closer to their loved ones.

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