The Mystery of the Unnamed Vietnam Veteran Finally has a Name: Corporal Robert Corriveau.


Mail Online shares a story of Marine corporal Robert Corriveau. The 20 year old Marine was stabbed to death along the side of a Pennsylvania highway on November 18, 1968 after he was listed as missing from a hospital. The military wasn’t aware of the murder and labeled Corriveau as deserter and brought shame to his family.

Corporal Corriveau was a hero with three purple hearts and two commendation medals. He fought some more intense battles of Vietnam. Unfortunately, he did not die a hero’s death. The way he died nearly 45 years ago wreaks of mystery, indignity, anonymity—his memory has been a source of shame for decades.

The body was discovered by a state trooper who was performing a routine patrol on November 18, 1968. The body was slumped against a tree by the highway interchange in Chester County, Pennsylvania.

The last time his mother talked to him, they were discussing his return for Thanksgiving.

When the body was found, his head was covered by a navy-issued pea coat. He had been stabbed clearly through the heart. For years the authorities couldn’t identify the man and they labeled the case as a John Doe homicide.

The body was known as “Bulldog John Doe” because of the Marine tattoo of a bulldog wearing the World War I helmet and the USMC lettering below it. Because the military did not know that the body was the missing Corporal, Corriveau was labeled as a cowardly deserter. He was only missing from the hospital for four hours before he was murdered.

Corriveau was being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms. He was ordered to the naval hospital in Philadelphia by his commanding officer—only because he was pressured by Corriveau’s family to admit him as a patient.

It was unaware by everyone that he had been found only 38 miles away. It was believed that he had run off and was classified as Absent Without Leave.

Then… July 29, 2009 there was a discovery. Investigators were searching through a numerous cold case files and pushed for Bulldog John Doe’s body to be exhumed from the pauper’s grave at Longwood Cemetery in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.

A sample of DNA was collected and the true identity was finally revealed. Corriveau’s family finally has some closure.

Corporal Corriveau was the buried with full military honors alongside his kin. The private ceremony was held at Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Lawrence, Massachusetts. There was a plaque erected in his hometown to recognize his valor.


The corporal’s story doesn’t end there. There is a group of retired and active service members who are interested in solving Corriveau’s murder and find his killer. The soldiers are bound by the solemn creed to “never leave a fallen comrade”, the brothers are picking up the investigation where the authorities failed.

These efforts may be able to bring some kind of peace to Kathleen West, 82 years old. Mrs. West now lives in Orlando, Florida. She broke her silence for the first time to tell MailOnline how for 41 years she lived in limbo. She believed that on one hand that her son was dead and on the other hand she had hoped he was alive—even if that meant that he was labeled as a deserter.

‘Only a mother who has been through it could understand how hard it is,’ she said. ‘As a mother you don’t want to admit that at any time he could possibly be dead.

‘So you’re hoping he’s still alive. If he is a deserter then you hope he made a new life, because you want him alive and you don’t want him in prison for the rest of his life.

‘The nights when you wake up crying and thinking and saying, “Where is he?” you hope against hope he is alive. But deep down you know he is dead.’

‘I had reached a point where he was gone. I had to get on with my life and the only way I do that is to declare him dead in my heart so I could function and get on.’


She also added, “I’ve never put him out of my mind. He’s constantly there. He was my first born.”

Mrs. West shares her memories of her son as a teenager. He got into trouble by breaking church windows, skipping school and she revealed that he even ran away once. Mrs. West and her husband, Phillip who worked as a deputy sheriff at a local jail, was able to get their son into a catholic boarding school in Rhode Island.

One day, 17 year old Bobby Dan, as his mother called him, came home with papers to sign so that he could enlist in the marines. Needless to say, they were not happy with the decision.

Mrs. West recalled that her husband, who died a few years after their son’s body had been found, just wanted their son to finish school.

She took her husband aside and convinced him that it was best to allow their son to “do what he wants.”

In the disciplined environment of the Marine Corps, he flourished. He was a flag folder for the elite color guard. A few months later, the Vietnam War began and he was sent on his first tour of duty. During one of the trips back home from the war zone, he married his childhood sweetheart, Sharon Foley Corriveau. They eloped without his parents knowing—it wasn’t before long that their relationship became strained. She was a hippy and he was a soldier.

‘He was one of those characters who showed up in the circle with his hands up,’ said Sharon, who still takes his surname. ‘He loved to fight.’

‘He loved the Marine Corps,’ said Sharon Corriveau said. ‘I thought he was going to be a lifer.’

Records show that Corriveau boxed in the war as a featherweight. He weighed 160 pounds and stood at 5 feet 6 inches. He also received high marks as a Marine and served with courage and skill as a member of the Third Battalion, Fourth Marine Division.

He was awarded three Purple Hearts and two Marine Corps Service Commendation Medals for helping to suppress the North Vietnamese Army in some critical areas that included western Quang Tri Province.

When he returned home after a bullet wound severed his thumb and struck his left arm. He was hospitalized and was to be discharged.

‘I’m the one he called when he was wounded,’ Mrs West said. ‘He said “Mama” three times.

‘The third time he was wounded the bullet went into the barrel of his machine gun before coming out and through his left arm.’

Mrs. West was concerned and went to see her son at the hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. ‘He was in the naval hospital there and they sewed him up.’

He was not the same ‘Bobby Dan’ she remembered and both she and her husband spoke to Corriveau’s commander with hopes that he could get their son some help. She said that he had been mentally scarred also.


‘He had demons inside,’ Mrs. West stated. She felt that he had been taking drugs to help cope with the horrors he seen in Vietnam.

Mrs. West said that her son had a meltdown and smashed the windows out of several cars that were parked on the street. Corriveau avoided jail time because his father was called and picked him up. Corriveau wanted to return to the front line for a fourth tour, but because he was injured so many times while in combat, he was unable to return.

His parents also felt that he was in no condition to reenter society. His commanding officer agreed and sent him to the now defunct Philadelphia Naval Hospital so that he could be treated for psychiatric issues. That conversation he had with his mother about Thanksgiving took place when he was in the hospital.

‘He really wanted to come home for Thanksgiving,’ said Mrs West. ‘I said, “How are you?” and he said ‘Yeah mama, I’m okay.’

What happened after that phone call remains a mystery and Mrs. West has had to wonder what happened between the time the phone call was placed and when her son was found.

Detectives Tom Nerney and John Kelly, both former Marines, are trying to figure out the specifics behind Corriveau’s death. It is uncertain if it was murder or suicide and it is unclear why he was 38 miles away from the hospital. Officials are still uncertain where the actual death took place. They also don’t know why the police didn’t make the connection of an AWOL soldier and a dead Marine.

Records show that Corriveau was stabbed with a round object and it penetrated the heart about 4 inches.

‘The murder weapon was small,’ Nerney said. ‘The body has a puncture in the left thorax, penetrating the heart and causing death.’

He said that the weapon could be anything from a small knife or an ice pick. All officials know is that the wound had no blood marks around it. “No one deserves what happened to him,”Nerney state. He has enlisted the help of several local law enforcement and FBI agents.

One FBI agent from Kentucky remembered coaching Corriveau boxing during the war. He described Corriveau to be a “scrappy and good kid.”

Nerny said that the theories on the murderer are “bizarre” and “beyond rational.”

‘I cannot yet connect the dots,’ he said. Asked if suicide was one possibility, Nerney said: ‘It can’t be ruled out but it’s doubtful.’

Corriveau’s mother still has case files and has never had any pushback from law inforcement or other agencies. She was certain that her son was killed.

‘He could have left the hospital and he could have been hitchhiking,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to believe that. I want to believe that he didn’t do any wrong.

‘Was he killed maybe in the hospital? But the records show he did leave the hospital on his own.

‘My son was killed,’ said Mrs West. ‘They have no idea where and they don’t know how he ended up in a sitting position by a tree when there was no blood around him.’


Sharon Corriveau said that she suspected that he was drugged and ganged up on as an act of revenge.

‘They know how he was killed and I’m told it was another location and whoever did it placed him there.’

She also said he ‘liked women’ and could have met his death at the hands of a love rival.

‘Bobby liked women. I think being away and down there when he was out on leave. He could have been after some girl he shouldn’t have been and she happened to have relatives or another suitor who could do this.’

He also told her that he could meet her in California. She admitted that at one time she was a suspect. She had DNA samples taken from her because her memories were inconsistent. She had since been ruled out.

‘The last time I saw him was in the hospital. I told him that I was going to California. He said “I’ll see you there”. He put his hand on my chin and kissed me and I drove away.’

One thing that is sure in her mind is that he would not have died without a hard fight.

‘To kill him the way they did with a clean would, his clothes weren’t ruffled – they would have to have had 17 people to pin him down. ‘And he would still have managed to crawl away if he was half dead.

‘The one way to kill Bobby was to use a gun with a scope and silencer and be as far away as you can get.

‘To stab him they had to be strong. That’s why I think he had to be sedated,’ she said.

She took the autopsy report to a heart surgeon. ‘He told me one word, “precision”.

Answers to these questions could have been answered long ago if it weren’t for a new soldier who messed up the finger printing when he joined.

‘Supposedly they had no fingerprints for him,’ said Mrs West, adding the FBI attempted to test the prints and couldn’t.

She said: ‘Somebody is out there who murdered him and knows what happened. He could have been killed in the hospital and he also could have been left there on the road or he could have been in a bar-room fight and murdered.’

Corriveau’s homicide remains active at the Pennsylvania State Police and it remains one of the cold cases that they are investigating. Since the DNA hit that tied the Marine to his family, the case remains open.

Mrs. West safeguards the case files in her Florida home. She praises the Pennsylvania State Troopers who never gave up and were honorable because they “never left a brother behind” and were able to find the DNA match.

‘State Troopers Patrick Quigley, Thomas Waters and Henry Callithen – they were the ones to had the DNA done and Sgt. Alicia Dexter of the Marine Corps who, along with these troopers, compared the dates and came up with a match.

‘If it wasn’t for their team effort my son would never have been identified. They didn’t give up.’

Although her Bobby Dan’s body was found remarkably after four decades, West says that she is certain he was murdered.

‘He could have left the hospital and he could have been hitchhiking,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to believe that. I want to believe that he didn’t do any wrong.

‘Was he killed maybe in the hospital? But the records show he did leave the hospital on his own.

‘My son was killed,’ said Mrs West. ‘They have no idea where and they don’t know how he ended up in a sitting position by a tree when there was no blood around him.

‘Since then we’ve continue to treat it like an active investigation,’ said Lieutenant Richard of the Pennsylvania State Police, adding the agency is going through archived hospital files and mining databases for leads. So far the investigation hasn’t turned up much.

‘We have not had any significant results that have popped up that have contributed to the investigation at this point.’

But Mrs West knows that, even if the murderer was caught, it won’t return her loving son to her.

‘The thing is, is it going to bring him back? No,’ she said. ‘If they found the murderer I would want to know but do want to see that murderer convicted? That man would be 70-years-old by now. My son would be 65. Is it going to help me to put that man away? No.’

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE