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William P. Lawrence
Lawrence in September 1983
Nickname "Bill"
Born (1930-01-13)January 13, 1930
Died December 2, 2005(2005-12-02) (aged 75)
Place of birth Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Place of death Crownsvile, Maryland, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1951–1986
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg Vice Admiral
Commands held U.S. Pacific Fleet
Superintendent, U.S. Naval Academy
U.S. Third Fleet
Chief of Naval Personnel
Awards Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Silver Star (3)
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star
Purple Heart (2)
Air Medal (3)
Relations Wendy B. Lawrence
Other work President of the Association of Naval Aviation

William Porter "Bill" Lawrence (January 13, 1930 – December 2, 2005), was a decorated United States Navy vice admiral and naval aviator who served as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy from 1978 to 1981. Lawrence was a noted pilot who became the first naval aviator to fly twice the speed of sound in a naval aircraft and was also one of the final candidates for the Mercury space program. During the Vietnam War, Lawrence was shot down while on a combat mission and spent six years as a prisoner of war, from 1967 to 1973. During this time he became noted for his resistance to his captors. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Lawrence served as the school's Superintendent from 1978 to 1981.

Early life and education

Lawrence's parents and grandparents were from Tennessee. Lawrence's father attended Vanderbilt University, where he was a noted student-athlete who graduated in 1924. Lawrence was a native of Nashville, and attended local schools. When in the fourth grade, Lawrence composed a poem called Little Fly:

Little Fly
I saw a little fly up on the wall.
I said to him "Little fly, aren't you afraid you'll fall?"
He looked at me a minute, then winked his eye.
And then he shifted into second, and then into high.

Lawrence distinguished himself as a student athlete at Nashville's West High School, and in 1947 turned down a scholarship at Yale University to attend the United States Naval Academy.


U.S. Naval Academy midshipman

Lawrence stood out as a varsity athlete in three sports at the Naval Academy, excelling in football, basketball, and baseball. During his time at the Academy, he held several high-ranking midshipman offices, including Commander of the Brigade of Midshipmen, President of the Class of 1951, while also graduating number 8 academically out of a class of 725. His other major accomplishments included helping to establish the honor concept governing midshipman's conduct. He graduated from the Academy in 1951.

Naval aviator

Lawrence received his "Wings of Gold" as a Naval Aviator in 1952. He attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Test Center, Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, where he received the Outstanding Student Award with the Test Pilot School Class 16. When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) established the manned spaceflight program, Lawrence became part of Project Mercury and made it to the final round of candidates. He was released from the program only because of a small heart murmur discovered during flight training.

Prisoner of War

In 1967, then-Commander Lawrence was serving as commanding officer of Fighter Squadron 143 (VF-143), aboard the aircraft carrier USS Constellation (CV-64). On 28 June 1967, Lawrence and his radar intercept officer, Lieutenant, junior grade James W. Bailey, were flying an F-4B Phantom II aircraft, Bureau Number 152242, while leading an antiaircraft suppression section during a raid northwest of Nam Dinh, North Vietnam. Struck by an 85-mm round while rolling in on target. Despite failing hydraulics, Lawrence and Bailey released their bombs, but part of the aircraft's tail section separated while attempting to pull out of a dive. Both officers were forced to eject, were captured, and were held as prisoners of war in Hanoi until 1973, during which time they suffered repeated torture and beatings. Along with fellow prisoner, naval aviator and Commander (later Vice Admiral) James Stockdale, Lawrence became noted for resistance to his captors. Additionally, he memorized every POW by name and rank while in captivity. He developed a code by tapping on the prison walls to communicate with other prisoners. Bailey was released on 18 February 1973 and Lawrence on 4 March 1973.[1]

Author of Tennessee State Poem

While a prisoner of war, Lawrence mentally composed poetry to help keep up his spirits. During a 60-day period of solitary confinement, he composed, by memory, the poem "Oh Tennessee, My Tennessee," in honor of his native state. In 1973, the Tennessee State Legislature adopted the poem as Tennessee's official state poem.[2]

Oh Tennessee, My Tennessee
What Love and Pride I Feel for Thee.
You Proud Ole State, the Volunteer,
Your Proud Traditions I Hold Dear.
I Revere Your Heroes
Who Bravely Fought our Country's Foes.
Renowned Statesmen, so Wise and Strong,
Who Served our Country Well and Long.
I Thrill at Thought of Mountains Grand;
Rolling Green Hills and Fertile Farm Land;
Earth Rich with Stone, Mineral and Ore;
Forests Dense and Wild Flowers Galore;
Powerful Rivers that Bring us Light;
Deep Lakes with Fish and Fowl in Flight;
Thriving Cities and Industries;
Fine Schools and Universities;
Strong Folks of Pioneer Descent,
Simple, Honest, and Reverent.
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.

Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy

Admiral Lawrence served as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy from August 1978 to August 1981. His daughter, Wendy Lawrence, attended the U.S. Naval Academy during that period as part of the Class of 1981, the second USNA class to include female graduates. Like her father, she became a Naval Aviator and later applied to become a NASA astronaut. Unlike her father, she was selected as an astronaut and subsequently flew multiple Space Shuttle missions. She retired from the Navy as a Captain.

Awards and decorations

Naval Aviator Badge.jpg Naval Aviator badge
Gold star
Gold star
Gold star
Navy Distinguished Service Medal with three Award stars
Gold star
Gold star
Silver Star with two award stars
Legion of Merit
Distinguished Flying Cross
Bronze Star with Combat Distinguishing Device
Gold star
Purple Heart with award star
Air Medal with Award numeral 3
Joint Service Commendation Medal
Gold star
Navy Commendation Medal
Combat Action Ribbon
Bronze star
Navy Unit Commendation with service star
Bronze star
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Vietnam Service Medal with three service stars
Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation
United Nations Korea Medal
Vietnam Campaign Medal
In 2000, the Naval Academy recognized Lawrence's contributions to his alma mater by presenting him with one of its Distinguished Graduate Awards.
In 2004, Admiral Lawrence was inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, in recognition of his athletic achievements both in high school and college.
In 2009, the U.S. Navy named the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) in his honor, sponsored by his widow and daughters.[3]
On 17 October 2008, a bronze statue of Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence was dedicated at the Naval Academy. The statue was a gift of the Naval Academy graduate and business tycoon H. Ross Perot.

Personal life


Wendy B. Lawrence, one of Lawrence's daughters, graduated with the Naval Academy in 1981 and became a Naval Aviator and Astronaut, attaining the rank of Captain. Lawrence's other daughter, Dr. Laurie Lawrence, attended Vanderbilt University and is a physician at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

See also


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Kinnaird R. McKee
Superintendent of United States Naval Academy
Succeeded by
Edward C. Waller

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