This week our nation recognized April 9 as National Former Prisoner of War Recognition Day. As with previous administrations, President Trump made the act official via presidential proclamation.
The declaration proclaims the day as an opportunity to pay homage to the courageous warriors who endured time in enemy hands and returned with honor to their families. As well, it reminds us of the continued active engagement former POWs have in their communities.
Though there were many to consider, we chose to highlight William P. Lawrence. He is the namesake of USS William P. Lawrence and embodies the concept of continued service to the utmost. As a former Vietnam conflict prisoner of war who went on to become one of the Navy’s highest ranking officers, Lawrence is the epitome of a true American hero. Vietnam War POW, Vice Admiral James B. Stockdale, evaluating then-Captain Lawrence’s performance in captivity, made these remarks:
“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.”
And Lawrence truly never did give up. His contributions to his country after his return from Vietnam included continued service as the Superintendent and also Chair of Naval Leadership at the U.S. Naval Academy; Commander, U.S. Third Fleet; Deputy Chief of Naval Operations; and Visiting Professional Scholar at the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University in 1994 (the latter being just 11 years before his death in 2005).
His influence can still be felt today. His daughter, Wendy Lawrence, also a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, went on to become an astronaut, logging over 1,225 hours in space. Lawrence’s poetry, written while he was in Vietnam, included a poem that was designated as the official poem of his home state of Tennessee. Perhaps most lasting, however, is the hard work of the crew of USS William P Lawrence (DDG 110).
USS William P. Lawrence, recently homeported in Hawaii as part of the rebalance of forces to support security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region, continues to preserve the Navy’s enduring mission of protecting and defending America through the maritime strategy. Since 2012, William P. Lawrence has conducted Freedom of Navigation operations in the South China Sea, humanitarian aid and rescue assistance at sea, and maritime support during Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises. As well, the crew has participated in community service projects in Korea and the Philippines during scheduled port visits. The ship has also been featured in the television show, “The Last Ship.”
William P. Lawrence sails as part of the John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group, and her last deployment was in 2016 as part of the Great Green Fleet Initiative.
The other U.S. naval vessel named after a prisoner of war is USS Stockdale (DDG 106), whose namesake Vice. Adm. James B. Stockdale. Admiral Stockdale also left an indelible mark on the leadership development program at the U.S. Naval Academy and the Navy at large. Check out this Naval Academy website to learn more about Stockdale’s legacy.