Memorial flags are presented by the military to the families of those who have served and passed. A memorial flag was the only remaining physical connection a North Wildwoods, New Jersey family had to their 19 year old brother who perished during the Vietnam War in a maritime disaster in the South China Sea. After the disaster, the Navy presented Patrick’s family with the memorial flag. That memorial flag was stolen this Fourth of July.
historic tragedy at sea
Patrick Corcoran perished while serving aboard the USS Frank E. Evans. In the early morning hours of June 3, 1969, during coordinated maneuvers with five other ships in the South China Sea, with all ships running deliberately without lights, the Evans mistook her own position and turned in front of an Australian aircraft carrier, the HMAS Melbourne, and was cut in half. While the stern of the ship remained afloat, and many survivors therein, the bow portion of the ship immediately sank, taking down with her the lives of 67 sailors, 14 officers, and one civilian. Patrick was asleep in his bunk at the time of the accident. His body was never found.
The American flag presented by the military to Corcoran’s family is only physical item of his that the family have to remember Patrick. The family has been flying the flag outside every year, every Memorial Day, for years, in memory of Patrick. Because it rained this year on Memorial Day, the flag was flown on the Fourth of July instead. The flag vanished from atop its flagpole in the middle of the night. A neighbor noticed it was missing while having his coffee early the morning of July 4th.
“We have nothing of Patrick’s. The connection to our brother Patrick is the flag,” said brother Tom Corcoran.
“This is all we had of Patrick. We had no body, we had nothing,” sister Suzanne Meissler said.
“Sadly, in today’s society, there is no respect for the flag or the country anymore,” said John Coffey, a spokesman for the USS Frank E. Evans Association. “A life was given in order for this particular flag to be flown.”
memorial flag returned
After the story went public, it went viral. North Wildwood police publically promised to drop the matter if the flag was returned before their investigation concluded. Several days later, the flag was returned in a box and left on a rocker by a woman who said “this is yours.”The flag was positively identified as the correct American flag based on markings on the flag’s brass grommets and POW/MIA markings.
The flag was well cared for by whoever stole it, according to local radio host and Vietnam veteran Joe Griffies. “It was folded very neatly. We can tell that they put it in the box with respect,” Griffies said.
The return of his brother’s flag was described by Corcoran as “unbelievable for me, my family, Patrick, and his friends. It’s just been amazing. This could not have been done without a team effort.”
The big question for the family has been whether this special American flag will continue to be flown outside even after this experience. “The question I have been asked since the flag has been returned is will the flag fly or will it be stored? This flag will be flown every Memorial Day every year, weather permitting, and if the weather does not permit, it will be flown on the 4th of July,” Tom Corcoran said.
North Wildwood Mayor Patrick T. 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.”
“I’m just happy they turned a wrong into a right. We’ve all made mistakes in our lives,” Corcoran said.
quest for vietnam memorial recognition
Now that the family’s flag has been returned, their eyes return to their current quest: to get the names of the 74 sailors added to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
For years, the family and the Evans Association have fought to have the lives lost at sea that night be recognized by the military. Defense Department’s casualty list hasn’t included the Evans casualties because the accident occurred outside the official combat zone.
Because of this, Patrick’s name, and the names of the others lost that night, have yet to be included on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
“Seventy-four sailors lost their lives. The government will not put their names on the wall,” Tom Corcoran said.
This is Patrick: