Stolen Memorial Flag of Vietnam War Sailor has Been Returned

American flag

The stolen memorial flag of Seaman Patrick Corcoran, a 19-year-old from Philadelphia who died aboard the USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War, was returned Monday to the scene of the July Fourth crime -- the front porch of a North Wildwood home.

On Monday, an unidentified young woman returned the flag, which was taken from a flagpole of a home owned by Tom and Lorraine Schaffer on East 11th Avenue.

The woman then got back inside a car that was waiting outside the Schaffers' home and left. The Schaffers live next door to the Corcoran family. The flag, which was presented to the Corcoran family 47 years ago at a funeral, has been flown in North Wildwood for about a decade.

Its theft was reported widely on social media and by veterans' groups.

"The person who took [the flag] was not necessarily the one who brought it back," North Wildwood Police Capt. John Stevenson said. "Apparently, the next-door neighbor Tom [Schaffer] saw the girl and did not get a tag of the vehicle."

Schaffer said he was watching the news when he noticed the young woman approaching his home.

"A young lady came up the steps with a box in her hands," said Schaffer, 73, an Army veteran and retired Philadelphia police officer. "She turned, she said, 'This is yours,' and laid it on the rocker out there."

The package, an unmarked U.S. Postal Service box, contained the flag. Schaffer verified that it was Patrick Corcoran's flag based on several characteristics: Four clips used to connect the flag to the pole, bent from use, and a POW/MIA insignia.

Local radio host and Vietnam veteran Joe Griffies said whoever stole the flag took good care of it.

"It was folded very neatly. We can tell that they put it in the box with respect," Griffies said.

Tom Corcoran, Patrick Corcoran's brother, did not see the flag until it was officially returned to the flagpole during a news conference Wednesday afternoon outside the Schaffers' home. Corcoran, 56, lives in Langhorne, and drove down to North Wildwood for the event.

The flag is the only object the Corcoran family has to remember Patrick. His body and those of the 73 other sailors aboard the Frank E. Evans were never recovered when it collided with the Melbourne, an Australian aircraft carrier.

During Wednesday's news conference, veterans and members of the Corcoran family hoisted the flag on the flagpole. The family and the network of veterans who helped spread the word about the flag's disappearance wanted the flag returned, no questions asked.

Getting the flag back is "unbelievable for me, my family, Patrick, and his friends. It's just been amazing. This could not have been done without a team effort," Corcoran said.

North Wildwood Mayor Patrick T. Rosenello, meanwhile, presented a flag to the Corcoran family that once flew above the U.S. Capitol. It was donated by U.S. Rep. Robert Brady (D., Pa.), who owns property in North Wildwood.

"I would like to thank everyone for their time and efforts in search of the missing flag," Rosenello said in a statement. "Although I would never condone theft of any kind, the perpetrator(s) recognized that a mistake was made, and attempted to make things right by returning the flag without any requests for an award, and for that I give them credit."

While the Corcorans and the Schaffers will continue to hang the memorial flag in North Wildwood on Memorial Day as per tradition, weather permitting, or on July Fourth, there is a possibility that the flag could be flown above City Hall in Philadelphia, to honor Patrick Corcoran and to raise awareness about the 74 Frank E. Evans victims whose names have yet to be added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

Louise Esola, a Philadelphia native and author of the book American Boys -- which focuses on the Frank E. Evans crash and its aftermath -- has reached out to City Hall representatives about the initiative.

"I want Philadelphians to come together. We honor our war vets," Esola said. "They hoist flags up for all different causes, and I think this is a worthwhile one."

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