Lawrence Lied About Service, State Dept. Concludes
By Stephen Barr Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 13, 1997
State Department, investigating the background of M. Larry Lawrence for
a second time since he was first chosen as ambassador to Switzerland, concluded
yesterday that the late diplomat, developer and Democratic party donor
had fabricated his wartime service in the Merchant Marine.
Lawrence was not at sea in March 1945, when he claimed to have been injured during a German torpedo attack, but in Chicago, where from September 1944 to June 1945 he was a full-time college student, department spokesman James Foley said. With the brief statement of facts, Foley announced that the administration's inquiry "is now closed."
But the chairman of the House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee looking into how Lawrence received a waiver from the administration that enabled him to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery faulted the State Department's explanations of how it conducted the original background check in 1993 and promised additional congressional scrutiny.
"The State Department could not verify basic information about Mr. Lawrence -- his claimed Merchant Marine service," Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) said. "Indeed, its investigators were confronted with a red flag, their inability to confirm his service, which they apparently ignored."
Everett added, "Obviously, they didn't look hard enough or in the right places, and I have to wonder why."
Senior diplomatic security officials said yesterday that investigators in 1993 could not locate Merchant Marine records showing Lawrence served, were told no other records existed to search and learned the Coast Guard did not consider Merchant Marine crews to be members of the armed forces.
During the original background check, investigators paid more attention to Lawrence's loans and lawsuits than his story of Merchant Marine service. "This claimed, voluntary affiliation was deemed less important when weighed against his full adult life's history," one official said.
The officials, however, acknowledged that investigators apparently failed to fully read the transcript of Lawrence's studies at Wilbur Wright Junior College in Chicago. If they had, investigators would have noticed the time period contradicted Lawrence's claim of service aboard a liberty ship hit by a German torpedo. "We did not connect the two," one official said.
Lawrence lied about his Merchant Marine service on his federal employment form and during interviews with investigators, the officials said.
The officials rejected suggestions that Lawrence, a big Democratic campaign contributor, received preferential treatment during the background check, and they promised to do a better job of "cross-checking" information gathered during future probes of presidential appointees.
But, as Everett's reaction underscored, the department's announcement is unlikely to end a congressional investigation into how Lawrence and up to a dozen other individuals were granted special permission for burial at Arlington National Cemetery. Lawrence died at age 69 in 1996 at his diplomatic residence in Bern.
The State Department inquiry into whether Lawrence faked his resume began last week after Everett said GOP staffers could not find records showing Lawrence served in the Merchant Marine or aboard the SS Horace Bushnell in March 1945. Lawrence had claimed to be aboard the ship and said he suffered head injuries when thrown overboard in the torpedo attack.
The GOP findings set off waves of protest from veterans groups over Lawrence's burial at Arlington, the nation's most hallowed military burial ground. The Army approved the burial in part because the State Department provided a letter that passed along Lawrence's claim of wartime duty in the Merchant Marine.
Lawrence's body was disinterred from Arlington National Cemetery Thursday and returned to San Diego for reburial. It marked the first time that a body had been removed from Arlington under such circumstances, an Army spokesman said.
Asked why Lawrence was not drafted for military service during World War II, diplomatic security officials said the records show he was classified as 4-F, indicating that he failed his induction physical.
The officials could not explain why he was classified 4-F but noted that college transcript notations show he withdrew from a gym class because of bronchial asthma.