Callously Stolen, Returned With Respect – The Mystery of the Memorial Flag

Nineteen-year-old Seaman Patrick Corcoran died aboard the USS Frank E. Evans during the Vietnam War. His family’s neighbors flew his memorial flag in front of their home until it was stolen on the 4th of July. The flag had been flown in the neighborhood for about ten years. It was presented to the Corcoran family 47 years ago.

The flag was returned on Monday. An anonymous young woman brought the flag back to the home of Tom and Lorraine Schaffer. It was taken from their flagpole on the 4th. The woman then got back in a waiting car and left.

The theft was covered 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 is a 73-year-old retired Philadelphia police officer and Army veteran. He explained how he saw the young woman approaching his home while he was watching television: “A young lady came up the steps with a box in her hands,” he said. “She turned, she said, ‘This is yours,’ and laid it on the rocker out there.”

The package was an unmarked U.S. Postal Service box. Inside was the flag. Schaffer verified that it was the missing flag based on four clips that connect it to the flag pole and are bent from use, as well as by a POW/MIA symbol.

Joe Griffies, a veteran and local radio host, said that the person who took the flag took care of it. “It was folded very neatly. We can tell that they put it in the box with respect,” Griffies said.

Corcoran’s brother, Tom, 56, drove to North Wildwood when the flag was officially rehung on the flagpole. It’s the only thing the family has to remember Corcoran. The bodies of the 74 Frank E. Evans crew members were never recovered.

Veterans and family members joined to raise the flag as they had worked together to get it back. 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,” Tom Corcoran said.

The mayor of North Wildwood, Patrick T. Rosenello, presented a flag that once flew over the U.S. Capitol to the family. It was donated by U.S. Representative Robert Brady (D – Pa.), who owns property in North Wildwood.

“I would like to thank everyone for their time and effort 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 a reward, and for that I give them credit.”

The Corcorans and Schaffers will continue to fly the flag on Memorial Day as is their tradition, or on July 4th. There is a possibility that the flag may fly over City Hall in Philadelphia to honor Corcoran and to bring attention to the 74 crew members of the Frank E. Evans whose names do not appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.

Louise Esola, author of American Boys, a book about the Frank E. Evans, has contacted the Philadelphia City Hall about the possibility. “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.”

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE