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Woman gets proof brother wasn't a deserter

By The Philadelphia Inquirer
Monday, May 13, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

PHILADELPHIA — Virginia Cleary never gave up.

In the 43 years since her older brother, Marine Cpl. Robert Daniel Corriveau, a decorated Vietnam veteran, went missing from the Philadelphia Naval Hospital and was declared a deserter, she never stopped searching for him.

She wrote countless letters, pestered senators and congressmen, traveled from her New Hampshire home to Philadelphia to search archives, scoured faces in crowds, battled with military and state officials for records, and enlisted police and private detectives.

Finally, on May 31, state police were able to identify the remains of Corriveau, found stabbed to death in Chester County.

On Nov. 18, 1968, the same day the 20-year-old Marine from Lawrence, Mass., disappeared from the hospital, an unidentified man was found dead alongside the Pennsylvania Turnpike near the Downingtown interchange.

He was stabbed once though the heart and covered with a Navy pea coat. He carried no identification. He was buried at Longwood Cemetery in Kennett Square.

It would be days before the family learned Corriveau was missing.

Cleary remembers Corriveau as an excellent athlete who loved to play baseball and hockey. He attended Mount St. Charles Academy, a boys' boarding school in Rhode Island.

He enlisted in the Marines at age 17 and was sent to Vietnam, where he served two tours.

He fought with the Third Battalion, Fourth Marine Division, and was wounded in action three times. He was sent home with two Bronze Stars, two Purple Hearts, and a chest full of ribbons.

Corriveau could not shake the flashbacks that tormented him sleeping and waking, Cleary said.

Corriveau was first treated at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Massachusetts. He was home on leave in October 1968, then traveled to the Philadelphia Naval Hospital to receive more psychiatric treatment.

Cleary said that on Nov. 18, the hospital staff reported Corriveau, who was in a locked ward, missing at morning roll call.

In July 2009, investigators from the state missing persons unit and the Chester County District Attorney's Office decided to exhume the body at Longwood buried under the name John Doe.

A DNA profile was obtained and entered into the national missing-persons database.

NCIS would later visit Cleary to obtain her DNA and confirm the match.

Cleary wasn't done fighting. She insisted that the Marines change the deserter designation. And she had to go to court to get custody of her brother's body so he could be buried next to his father and deceased brother.

“After 43 years, we were shocked to find out what happened to him,” she said. “And on the other side, we were happy that we finally knew.”

 

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