Our Laguna: VFW fundraiser honors Harry Lawrence, veterans

July 28, 2011|By Barbara Diamond
  • Commander Bill Sandlin presents a plaque to Harry Lawrence at the VFW Post 5868 dinner.
Commander Bill Sandlin presents a plaque to Harry Lawrence… (Photo by Jackie…)

All veterans, but particularly one of Laguna's own, were honored July 21 at a fundraiser hosted by Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5868 at the Laguna Beach Woman's Club.

About 75 people attended the tribute for vets and, specifically, Harry James Lawrence — yes, there are two Harry Lawrences in town, hence the middle name. Among the guests: family, friends, admirers and members of the post, its auxiliary and of American Legion Post 222.

"Harry was in the hospital for two weeks before the event, and it took a tremendous effort on his part to attend," said his wife, Zahide. "I was so grateful he was able to be there."

Lawrence was honored as one of the great heroes and citizens of Laguna by post Senior Vice Cmdr. Arnie Silverman, who organized the tribute.

Silverman, who served as master of ceremonies, referred often to the text he had written for the program, which was distributed to everyone who attended.


It included a brief résumé of Lawrence's accomplishments in the service of his country and his community:

"Harry's history of achievements is overwhelming. A World War II veteran, he commanded an LSI-329 amphibious ship that made numerous beach landings of Marines in the thick of fighting in the battle-torn Solomon Islands. Often under attack by Japanese torpedo bombers, he once came close to losing his ship. He rose from ensign to lieutenant-commander and by the war's end, he captained his own ship.

"When Harry was commanding amphibious landing craft delivering Marines to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, Vern Spitaleri was doing the same thing on a beach in Normandy," Silverman said.

Spitaleri, who was honored in 1996 as a Patriot of the Year by the Laguna Beach Patriots Day Parade Committee, was seated next to Lawrence at the tribute. The parade committee also honored Lawrence as Citizen of the Year in 1981 and grand marshal in 2008.

Spitaleri was also active in community affairs — sometimes in concert with Lawrence.

Both worked on acquiring Main Beach as a park for the city, and both helped raise money for art institutions in Laguna.

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