USS WILLIAM P. LAWRENCE, Pacific Ocean – USS William P. Lawrence gets its name from Vice Adm. William Porter “Bill” Lawrence, who was shot down over North Vietnam and held prisoner of war. Following his return home, he was awarded the Silver Star for the ill-fated mission and the Distinguished Service Medal, which is the country's third highest military award, for his inspirational leadership while in captivity.
PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 4, 2015) - USS William P. Lawrence (DDG 110) and USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) participate in a show of force transit off the coast of San Clemente Island near Southern California. The Sailors from John C. Stennis Strike Group are undergoing Composite Training Unit Exercise and Joint Task Force Exercise (COMPUTEX/JTFEX), the final step in certifying to deploy. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Susan C. Damman)
Even as a boy in Nashville, Tennessee, Lawrence was a leader. He served as class president and as a ranking officer in NJROTC. He was named all-city in football and all-state in basketball, was a member of the state championship basketball team and won a Boys' Tennis State Championship. After graduating high school as valedictorian, he attended the U.S. Naval Academy.
While attending the Naval Academy, Lawrence excelled in three varsity sports and served as class president. He most notably led the initiative to establish the Brigade Honor Concept, a key element in Midshipmen moral development, even today. During his senior year, he served as commander of the Brigade of Midshipmen. He graduated in 1951 “with distinction” and was ranked eighth out of a class of 725.
After receiving his “Wings of Gold” in Pensacola, Florida, in 1952, Lawrence was assigned to Fighter Squadron 193 and made two deployments to the Far East aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA 34). Lawrence next attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland. He graduated first in this class, and continued to serve there as a test pilot in the Flight Test Division as well as an instructor. In 1958, he became the first naval aviator to fly twice the speed of sound in a Navy airplane, the F8U Crusader III.
Lawrence deployed three more times and was serving as commanding officer of Fighter Squadron (VF) 143 aboard USS Constellation (CV 64), when he and his radar intercept officer were captured during an air raid in Vietnam, June 1967. The two were held as prisoners of war at the “Hanoi Hilton” or Hoa Lo Prison. Lawrence became renowned for his resistance to his captors, along with fellow inmate Cmdr. (later Vice Adm.) James B. Stockdale. He also composed a poem entitled “Oh Tennessee, My Tennessee,” which was later designated by the state legislature as the official poem of the state of Tennessee. Lawrence was released in March 1973 as part of Operation Homecoming.
Following repatriation and convalescence, Lawrence continued to serve his country with unparalleled excellence as: Commander Light Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet; director, Aviation Programs Division and assistant deputy chief of naval operations (air warfare); superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy; commander, U.S. Third Fleet; deputy chief of naval operations (manpower, personnel and training)/chief of naval personnel.
Lawrence retired from active duty in 1986. He subsequently served as the chair of Naval Leadership at the Naval Academy until 1994 and also 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, where he was researching the U.S. military and media relations.
Awards established in his name include the Naval Academy's Vice Adm. William P. Lawrence Award, a sword given annually to the most outstanding female athlete in the Brigade of Midshipmen; and the Navy's Vice Adm.William P. Lawrence Award, a trophy given annually to the most outstanding air traffic control maintenance technician in the Navy.
The Lawrence family has a strong relationship with the USS William P. Lawrence.
Lawrence's son Bill Jr. visits the ship often and has participated in family day cruises and the 2015 Prisoner Of War Ceremony. Bill Jr. reflected on his father's legacy, “He became known as the ‘Sailor's Admiral' ... because he knew that even the Navy's most modern ships and aircraft were nothing but sophisticated hardware [without] the crews who manned them ... The men and women who made up those crews were always his passion, priority and focus.”
By U.S. Navy Lt. j.g. Jane M. Baird, USS William P. Lawrence Public Affairs
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