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First Name: William

Last Name: Lawrence

Birthplace: Nashville, TN, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Navy (present)


Middle Name: Porter

Date of Birth: 13 January 1930

Date of Death: 02 December 2005

Rank or Rate: Vice Admiral

Years Served:
William Porter Lawrence

Graduate, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of 1951

•  Korean War (1950 - 1953)
•  Vietnam War (1960 - 1973)


William Porter Lawrence
Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy

William Porter Lawrence was born on 13 January 1930 in Nashville, TN. His parents and grandparents were both from Tennessee. Lawrence's father attended Vanderbilt University, where he was a noted student-athlete who graduated in 1924. William was a native of Nashville, and attended local schools.

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 U.S. Naval Academy.

U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman

Lawrence excelled as a varsity athlete in three sports at the Naval Academy; football, basketball, and baseball. During his time at the Academy, he held several high-ranking Midshipmen offices, including Commander of the Brigade of Midshipmen and President of the Class of 1951. He also graduated eighth 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 designated Naval Aviator in 1952. He attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at the Naval Air Test Center, NAS Patuxent River, MD, where he received the Outstanding Student Award with TPS Class 16. When 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 (POW)

In 1967, then-Commander Lawrence was serving as Commanding Officer of Fighter Squadron 143 (VF-143), aboard the 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 a flak 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 successfully ejected but were captured and held as prisoners of war in Hanoi until 1973. Throughout their imprisonment 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 was released on 4 March 1973.

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.

Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy

Lawrence served as Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy from August 1978 to August 1981. His daughter, Wendy Lawrence, attended the 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.

Medals and Awards

Navy Distinguished Service Medal (2 Awards)

Silver Star Medal (3 Awards)

Legion of Merit

Distinguished Flying Cross

Bronze Star Medal with Combat "Valor" Device

Air Medal

Purple Heart (2 Awards)


• 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 Navy named the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110) in his honor. The ship was sponsored by the Admiral's widow and daughters.

• 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.


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.


Two weeks before his death, Lawrence finished his memoir, "Tennessee Patriot."

Death and Burial

Vice Admiral William Porter Lawrence died on 2 December 2005. He is buried at the U.S. Naval Academy Cemetery in Annapolis, MD.

Honoree ID: 2741   Created by: MHOH




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