Honorable William S. Cohen
Secretary of Defense
1300 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1300
Dear Mr. Secretary:
As you are aware, since last June the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations has been conducting an investigation into the granting of waivers to the eligibility regulations for burial at Arlington National Cemetery, which is under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Army.
One of the waivers granted was for Mr. M. Larry Lawrence, who was U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland when he died on January 9, 1996. According to the files maintained at Arlington, his waiver was granted because he had died in office as an ambassador and because he was a veteran by virtue of Merchant Marine service during World War II.
The enclosed Department of State letter from Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Patrick F. Kennedy dated January 10, 1996, requesting the waiver stated in part that:
“Ambassador Lawrence served in the United States Merchant Marine during World War II. His ship was torpedoed in the Arctic Ocean and he was severely injured. I have enclosed a memorandum from Assistant Secretary Holbrooke outlining his wartime service.
“This service and his wartime injury in the line of duty should be considered equivalent to military service and the award of a Purple Heart in present terms, thus entitling Ambassador Lawrence to burial at Arlington either directly or through an exception.”
The enclosed memorandum from Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke dated January 10, 1996, stated that:
“In connection with the funeral and burial arrangements of Ambassador M. Larry Lawrence, I would like to provide some background concerning his service to the United States in World War II.
“Ambassador Lawrence enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1944 at the age of 18. On March 20, 1945 his vessel, the liberty ship S.S. Horace Bushnell, was torpedoed by a German submarine in the Arctic Ocean near Murmansk. At the time his ship was carrying 65,000 tons of war supplies from Scotland to the U.S.S.R. As a result of this attack, he was thrown overboard into frigid Arctic waters and suffered serious head injuries, which required many months of convalescence. Ambassador Lawrence’s valliant service on the notoriously dangerous Murmansk Run was formally recognized by the Russian Government in January 1993 when he was presented the the [sic] Russian Federation’s 40th Anniversary Medal of Honor by Russia’s Ambassador to the United States, Vladimir Lukin.”
According to the Superintendent of Arlington, Mr. John C. Metzler, Jr., he was unable to confirm Mr. Lawrence’s Merchant Marine service when considering the waiver request. Of the approximately 81 members of the Merchant Marine buried or inurned at Arlington, it appears that only Mr. Lawrence is without confirmed Merchant Marine service.
The Subcommittee has subsequently attempted to confirm Mr. Lawrence’s Merchant Marine service and has been unable to do so. The National Maritime Center of the U.S. Coast Guard (the Center) is the repository of the database used for the purpose of confirming World War II Merchant Marine service and establishing veteran status under Public Law 95-202. The Center has searched its database and has not found Mr. Lawrence’s name. Mr. Donald J. Kerlin, the Center’s Deputy Director, has stated to the Subcommittee that based on the evidence available to the Center, he would conclude that Mr. Lawrence was not on the vessel SS Horace Bushnell and was not in the Merchant Marine. I acknowledge, Mr. Secretary, that we can not dismiss the possibility that records of his Merchant Marine service could have been lost or could have been misplaced.
The Center has examined the Shipping Articles (copy enclosed) for the voyage during which the ship was torpedoed on March 20, 1945. The Shipping Articles are an official record of individuals who served on the ship. Mr. Lawrence’s name does not appear in the Shipping Articles.
The ship casualty records maintained by the Maritime Administration of the Department of Transportation contain a contemporaneous and detailed official casualty report by the ship’s Master on the torpedoing of the SS Horace Bushnell (copy enclosed). It contains information which appears to be irreconcilable with the Department of State memorandum. The report contains no account of anyone being thrown overboard or rescued. It should be noted that in the month of March, Arctic waters would be so cold that a person would die from hypothermia within a short time.
The casualty report indicates that four crew members were apparently killed instantly by the torpedo blast and that a fifth crew member later died from shock and a heart attack. Only one individual suffered serious injury, a lacerated wound
inside the upper lip and shock which paralyzed his legs temporarily. He was later hospitalized near Murmansk. His name is also listed in the Shipping Articles. Other less serious injuries to the crew were a wrenched shoulder, bruises, wrenched muscles and shock. There is no account of “serious head injuries” or of any injury to an individual named Lawrence.
Mr. Lawrence was not a career State Department official, but received a political appointment to a second tier ambassadorship. I believe it is imperative that the Administration, the Department of Defense and the Department of the Army verify Mr. Lawrence’s Merchant Marine service to support the waiver decision and maintain the integrity of Arlington National Cemetery. Please use every available resource to provide the Subcommittee any documentation establishing Mr. Lawrence’s Merchant Marine service on any ship. Please determine why the Department of the Army did not take additional steps to verify Mr. Lawrence’s Merchant Marine service after Mr. Metzler could not.
A similar letter is being sent to the Secretary of State.
I look forward to your reply no later than January 5, 1998.
Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations
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