The secret that Larry Lawrence took to his grave finally forced him out of it Thursday.
Without ceremony, and with his widow standing by in the gloomy early morning drizzle, the remains of the disgraced ambassador and Democratic donor were dug up from Arlington National Cemetery and flown to California for reburial.
Gone, too, from the hallowed soil near the Tomb of the Unknowns was the imposing headstone that immortalized Lawrence as a one-time Merchant Marine - a claim that may be false - and bore the inscription “Never give in.”
Lawrence’s fourth wife and widow, Shelia Davis Lawrence, acceded to demands for the heave-ho after it was revealed Lawrence was in college in Chicago in March 1945 when he claimed to have been injured on a German-torpedoed ship in Arctic waters.
Contractors hired by the Lawrence family removed the coffin, starting to dig before dawn and finishing at 10:30 a.m. “It was done at no cost to the government,” said a family source.
The Pentagon’s Kenneth Bacon said the move was handled “privately by the Lawrence family funeral home.”
By afternoon, all that remained at the site were 54 pieces of sod on the filled-in plot and tire tracks from the truck that hauled him out.
The family kept details of the reburial private. A source said Lawrence’s body was flown by private jet to San Diego, but the headstone probably will remain behind.
President Clinton, who delivered the eulogy at Lawrence’s funeral in 1996, had named the big-bucks Democratic donor and California businessman ambassador to Switzerland - to the distress of career diplomats. Clinton also helped push through a waiver to allow Lawrence’s burial at the military cemetery when he died at age 69 from a blood disease.
White House leaned on Shelia Lawrence to agree to his removal as his war story unraveled. She said in a letter to Clinton that the controversy “precludes his resting there in peace.”
Lawrence’s apparent fib about wartime service was not uncovered during background checks for the ambassador’s post or when the waiver was granted for Arlington, where he did not meet established criteria.
The State Department is reviewing the bungle, while congressional investigators focus on whether the waiver process has worked unfairly in favor of those with political connections.
Phil Budahn, an American Legion spokesman, said: “One of the broader lessons is to decide whether anybody should be going in there who does not meet formal eligibility criteria.”
Budahn said the Legion also is mulling “whether any nonveterans ever should be buried in Arlington.”