Ex-soldiers angry that vet who admitted killing wife to be buried in Denver national cemetery

Monday, August 23, 2010

Vet who died in prison gets national cemetery plot

DENVER — Some military veterans are angry that a World War II soldier who died in prison after pleading guilty to killing his wife is scheduled to be buried Tuesday in Denver’s Fort Logan National Cemetery.

Raymond R. Sawyer, a former Marine from Colorado, died Aug. 11 in a Tucson, Ariz., state prison while serving 13 years for second-degree murder.

His wife, Frances A. Sawyer, was found strangled in August 1981 in Glendale, Ariz., where the couple lived. The case remained unsolved for 26 years.

In 2007, sometime after Raymond Sawyer moved to the Denver suburb of Arvada, a cold-case investigator from Glendale went to Arvada to interview him in hopes of turning up new leads, Glendale police said.

During the interview, Sawyer “broke down” and made statements about the slaying that only the killer could have known, Glendale spokesman Matt Barnett said at the time.

Sawyer was arrested and taken to Arizona. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison in 2008.

Besides citing the slaying, Sawyer’s critics also say he once falsely claimed to have received the Navy Cross, the military branch’s second-highest medal for valor.

The only conviction that disqualifies veterans from burial in a national cemetery is a capital crime, according to federal law. Sawyer’s case wasn’t considered a capital offense, Arizona officials said.

An explanation of the law on the Veterans Affairs Department website makes no mention of disputed medals. A VA spokeswoman confirmed the burial plans for Sawyer but said she couldn’t comment further.

“It disgraces the Marine Corps and it dishonors the Marine Corps” to bury Sawyer at Fort Logan, said Joe Ryan, a former Marine from Denver who is part of a color guard made up of veterans who carry the U.S. and Marine Corps flags at veterans’ services.

Ryan said his group refused a request made through the Marine Corps to participate in Sawyer’s interment service. Marines spokesman Greg Gordon said he couldn’t immediately comment on whether any active-duty Marines will attend.

Sawyer was 83 when he died. The cause of death hasn’t been released.

His daughter, Mary Sawyer, told KUSA-TV in Denver that the choice of her father’s gravesite was a family matter.

“It’s not the public’s decision,” Sawyer said. “Other people should mind their own business.”

She told the station the family believes Sawyer was awarded the Navy Cross.

The daughter did not return a phone message Monday from The Associated Press.

Sawyer’s critics acknowledge that he saw combat with the Marines in the Pacific Theater and was discharged honorably.

“There’s no question that he served honorably,” said Bob Fischer, another former Marine who said he once considered Sawyer a friend. “I just don’t know why he went off the deep end.”

The National Personnel Records Center of the National Archives didn’t immediately respond to a request to verify Sawyer’s service record.

Sawyer had made the claim about receiving the Navy Cross in late 2006, said Philip Conran, national adjutant of the Legion of Valor, an organization chartered by Congress that keeps a role of valor medal recipients.

Conran said Sawyer applied to be recognized by the group, but his application was rejected because no evidence could be found that he received the medal.

(This version CORRECTS that eligibility for burial in national cemeteries set by federal law, not Veterans Affairs Department.)

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