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Named for Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, U. S. Navy

VADM William Porter Lawrence
William Porter Lawrence


William Porter Lawrence was shot down over North Vietnam in June 1967 and held as a Prisoner of War until March 1973. He was awarded a Silver Star for the mission in which he was shot down.
Ship Facts | Crest Explanation

VADM William Porter Lawrence was born in Nashville TN on January 13, 1930. He died December 2, 2005.

As a boy in Nashville, he graduated first in his high school class and was President of the Student Body. He was ranking officer in the ROTC, all-city in football, all-state in basketball, member of the state championship basketball team and state Boys Tennis champion. He was a recipient of the William Hume award, given by the Superintendent of City Schools to the high school football player, “most outstanding in scholarship, leadership, sportsmanship and value to his team.” He attended the U. S. Naval Academy, where he played three varsity sports and ranked 8 out of 725 academically, graduating “with distinction” in 1951. He also served as Class President, Commander of the Brigade of Midshipmen, and led the establishment of the present-day Brigade Honor Concept, a key element in Midshipmen moral development.

Upon receipt of his Naval Aviator Wings in Pensacola FL in November 1952, he was assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 at the Naval Air Station Moffett Field CA during the Korean War, and deployed twice to the Far East aboard the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany. He next attended the Naval Aviation Safety School at the University of Southern California, and the U. S. Naval Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Test Center, Patuxent River MD, where he graduated number one in his class. Subsequently, he served as a test pilot in the Flight Test Division and as an instructor on the Test Pilot School staff. While a test pilot in 1958, he became the first Naval Aviator to fly twice the speed of sound in a Navy airplane, the F8U Crusader III. In 1959 he was a Navy nominee for the initial astronaut selection and was among the final 32 candidates for the Project Mercury program, being disqualified for a minor physical defect. With regard to VADM Lawrence's test pilot years, the following is an excerpt from the novel Space by James Michener:

"On her weekends Penny came to know the older test pilots who were either still working on the base or returning to it to compare notes or drink beer with their earlier associates, and she saw that John Glenn, quiet and sober, was much like her husband, a true straight arrow…Al Shepard was all dignity and power, while Scott Carpenter was relaxed and amiable….She was overawed by Bill Lawrence, perhaps the ablest flyer, all things considered, that Pax River was to produce."

Lawrence, as a Lieutenant, served as Personal aide to RADM Thomas H. Moorer, USN, Commander Carrier Division Six, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, deploying to the Mediterranean and North Atlantic. He next served as Assistant Operations Officer of Fighter Squadron 101, Naval Air Station, Oceana, VA responsible for the introduction of the new F4H Phantom jet to the fleet, followed by a tour as Navigator of the gun cruiser USS Newport News.

As Maintenance Officer of Fighter Squadron 14, Naval Air Station, Cecil Field FL, he deployed to the Mediterranean aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. He next served as Executive Assistant to General Paul D. Adams, USA, Commander-in-Chief U.S. Strike Command, headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base FL.

VADM Lawrence made combat deployments to Vietnam aboard the aircraft carriers USS Ranger and USS Constellation. While Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron 143, he was shot down over North Vietnam in June 1967 and held as a Prisoner of War until March 1973. The following is an excerpt from the citation of the Silver Star, awarded to VADM Lawrence for the mission in which he was shot down:

“He was assigned as the flight formation and flak-suppression leader for the attack force. Although weather conditions en route required several course deviations….Commander Lawrence approached the target area in the lead of the strike group, immediately coming under an intense barrage of heavy caliber enemy anti-aircraft fire. He unhesitatingly proceeded to carry out his attack in order to neutralize the enemy’s capabilities against the strike aircraft. Although his aircraft was damaged by anti-aircraft fire during the attack, Commander Lawrence pressed on to deliver a deadly blow to the most prominent threat site for the aircraft following him. His selfless courage and determination throughout were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the country’s third highest military award, for his inspirational leadership of fellow POWs while under constant pressure and mistreatment from his captors. The following is an excerpt from this citation:

“For exceptionally meritorious service to the government of the United States in a duty of great responsibility as the Senior Ranking Officer of Camp Vegas Prison of War Camp and at various intervals, other cellblocks, from June 1967 to March 1973. By his diligent efforts, perseverance, devotion, and loyalty to his country under the most adverse conditions, he resisted all attempts by the North Vietnamese to use him in causes detrimental to the United States. He provided superb leadership and guidance to his fellow prisoners during periods of severe pressure from his captors in their attempt to gain information for propaganda purposes. Formulating firm and explicit guidelines, he set a pattern of resistance for all to follow. His extraordinary courage, resourcefulness, and sound judgment reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Naval Service and the United States Armed Forces."

The following is an excerpt from the evaluation of then Captain Lawrence’s performance in captivity by the senior Navy POW, VADM James B. Stockdale, USN:

“The record of his achievement in Hanoi is a chronicle of patriotic loyalty, personal bravery, physical toughness, compassionate aid to his fellows, and inspirational leadership. From the time of his capture he was consistently stalwart and resilient in the absorption of torture from his enemies….He repeatedly paid the price of being perceived by the enemy as a source of their troubles through his ‘high crime’ of leadership….He could not be intimidated and never gave up the ship.”

After repatriation and convalescence at the Naval Hospital Memphis TN, he attended the National War College, where he was designated a distinguished graduate. During the same period, he pursued a course of study at George Washington University, leading to the award of a master’s degree in international affairs in July 1974.

After promotion to Rear Admiral in July 1974, VADM Lawrence served as Commander Light Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet at the Naval Air Station, Lemoore CA. Subsequently, he served as the Director, Aviation Programs Division and Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Air Warfare) in the Pentagon. He became Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy on 28 August, 1978 and promoted to Vice Admiral on 1 August 1980. VADM Lawrence assumed command of the U.S. Third Fleet in September 1981, the Fleet which Admiral Halsey commanded in World War II. In 1983, while COMTHIRDFLT, he won the Hawaii Armed Forces singles tennis championship in the seniors division (over 45).

On 28 September 1983, he became the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower, Personnel and Training)/Chief of Naval Personnel, responsible for formulating and executing Navy policies on personnel and training matters. During his period, VADM Lawrence was dubbed by the men and women in the fleet as the “Sailor’s Admiral.”

He retired from active duty on 1 February 1986 and subsequently occupied the Chair of Naval Leadership at the Naval Academy until 1994, and served as the President of the Association of Naval Aviation from 1991 to 1994. He was a Visiting Professional Scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, conducting research and preparing a report on the relationship between the military and the U.S. news media.

While a POW in North Vietnam, VADM Lawrence composed a poem entitled “Oh Tennessee, My Tennessee” which was designated by the state legislature as the official poem of the State of Tennessee. The following is a quotation from the moving ending of this poem:

“Beauty and hospitality are the hallmarks of Tennessee; and o’er the world as I may roam no place exceeds my boyhood home. And oh how much I long to see my native land, my Tennessee.”

In 1973, the Nashville Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame established the William P. Lawrence Award, given annually to the outstanding football scholar-athlete in the city’s public and private schools.

VADM Lawrence received the 1979 National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Gold Medal, the Foundation’s highest honor, awarded to a former college player who has distinguished himself by his personal qualities, professional life, and contributions to his country. Former gold Medal recipients include President Dwight Eisenhower, Herbert Hoover, John Kennedy, Gerald Ford, and Ronald Reagan, Supreme Court Justice Byron White, Coaches Amos Alonzo Stagg and Earl Blaik, and actor John Wayne.

In 1980, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Fisk University in Nashville TN, a prominent historically black school.

In 1982, the Naval Academy established the Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence Award, a sword given annually to the most outstanding woman athlete in the Brigade of Midshipman.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association selected him for the 1984 Theodore Roosevelt Award, the Association’s highest honor, recognizing VADM Lawrence as one “For whom competitive athletics in college and attention to physical well-being have been important factors in a distinguished career of national significance and achievement.” Former recipients include Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford and George Bush, US. Senator Leverett Saltonstall, Golfer Arnold Palmer, and General of the Army Omar Bradley. In 1984 he received The Liberty Bowl’s Distinguished Citizen Award, presented annually to a deserving citizen who has contributed mightily to his community and profession. The impressive list of citizens who have received the Award since 1972 include: Paul “Bear” Bryant ’74, Danny Thomas ’79, William Simon ’83 (former Secretary of the U.S. Treasury), Fred Russell, ’86 and the New York City Police Officers, Fire Fighters and Emergency Workers 2001.

In 1985, the Navy established the Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence Award, a trophy given annually to the most outstanding Air Traffic Control Maintenance Technician in the Navy.

In 1997 he received the Navy League’s Admiral Arleigh Burke Leadership Award for outstanding leadership, personal integrity, professional achievement and unselfish dedication to America.

On October 21, 2000 he received the U. S. Naval Academy Alumni Association’s Distinguished Graduate Award. The award is given to those who have provided a lifetime of service to the nation. Other honorees were: John J. McMullen, Class of 1940; ADM James L. Holloway, Class of 1943; MAJGEN William A. Anders, USAF, Class of 1955; and Roger T. Staubach, Class of 1965.

November 17th, 2003 he was honored as an award winner at the National Caring Awards Ceremony, Ronald Reagan Building, Washington DC. The Caring Institute celebrates those special individuals who, in transcending self, devote their lives in service to the disadvantaged, the poor, the disabled, and the dying. Other honorees were: William Austin, Dr. Gloria Johnson-Rodgers, Steven & Michele Kirsch, Jerry Lee, Tom Osborne and Betty Tisdale.

February 27th, 2004, he was honored as an inductee into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. The mission of the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame is to honor the outstanding achievements of Tennesseans in the realm of sports, and to perpetuate the memory of their careers and service.

He has also received the State of Tennessee’s Outstanding Achievement Award, the Liberty Bowl’s Distinguished Service Award, the Military Chaplains Association Citizen of the Year Award, and the Harvard Business School Distinguished Speakers Program “Outstanding Speaker of the Year” award.

October 23rd, 2004 he was honored by The National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame at a Naval Academy football pre-game ceremony with midshipmen on the field in formation. His recognition reads; For a lifetime defined by superior leadership, valor and dedication to our nation and the game of football. And whose exemplary contributions, heroic deeds and distinguished service will forever resonate throughout this game and this nation: "Given with much appreciation –October 23, 2004, Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland."

March 1st, 2005 he was honored by the Nashville Alliance, Public School Hall of Fame, Class of 1947 West High School, 2005 Distinguished Alumni Award. October 15th, 2005 Admiral J. L. Holloway III, U. S. Navy (Ret) honored him with the Dedication of the VADM W.P. Lawrence “N” Room at the Navy and Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

VADM Lawrence’s organizational affiliations include: Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Committee on History; Vice President, Naval Historical Foundation; Trustee, U.S. Air Force Historical Foundation; Trustee, Naval Aviation Museum Foundation; Director; National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame, Inc.; Consultant to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports; United States Olympic Training Center-San Diego Campaign Steering Committee; Director, Institute for International Sport; Director, Atlantic Council of the U.S.; Trustee, Naval Academy Foundation; and Early and Pioneer Naval Aviation Association. In addition, he is on the Boards of Directors of several corporations and is listed in Who’s Who in America.

He was married to the former Diane Wilcox of Montoursville PA. They have four children: Bill Jr., Frederick, Laurie and Wendy. Bill Jr., is Manager of Operations and Technology for Southern California Edison at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. He has written and spoken about computer networking and authored the Using NetWare series for Que. Frederick is an Engineering Specialist with Electric Boat Corporation, Groton CT. Laurie is an M.D. and Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Wendy is a Naval Academy Graduate and Navy pilot who is currently serving as an astronaut. A veteran of four shuttle missions, she has logged 1225 hours in space. She was the first woman naval aviator and Naval Academy graduate to fly in space.

VADM Lawrence’s military decorations include: Distinguished Service Medal (4 awards), Silver Star (3 awards), Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Bronze Star with Combat V, Purple Heart (2 awards), Air Medal (3 awards), Joint Service Commendation Medal, and Navy Commendation with Combat V (2 awards), Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unit Commendation (with silver star), POW Medal, National Defense Service Medal (with bronze star), Korean Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal (three bronze stars), Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation, United Nations Service Medal and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

Current William P Lawrence

USS William P Lawrence (DDG 110) was laid down on 16 September 2008 at the Ingalls Shipbuilding shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi, launched on 15 December 2009, christened on 17 April 2010 and commissioned at Mobile, Alabama on 4 June 2011. On 1 July 2011 The William P. Lawrence arrived at its new homeport of Naval Base San Diego, Calif.

In June 2012 USS William P. Lawrence moored at Tom McCall Waterfront Park for a four-day port visit to Portland, Ore., to participate in the annual Rose Festival. The Lawrence departed Naval Station San Diego, California on 14 January 2013 for its first overseas deployment as part of a four-ship surface action group (SAG) from Carrier Strike Group Eleven. Later in the month the Lawrence participated in an Undersea Warfare Exercise (USWEX) in the Hawaiian Op. Area. In March the guided-missile destroyer participated in a multinational exercise AMAN 2013.


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USS William P Lawrence (DDG 110)

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