- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

NORTH WILDWOOD, N.J. (AP) - Police in New Jersey are searching for the culprits who stole an American flag given to the family of a Philadelphia man killed during the Vietnam War when his ship collided with an aircraft carrier.

The flag had been hanging from a flagpole on the Fourth of July in the shore town of North Wildwood when someone stole it, police said.

The 10-foot by 5-foot flag had been given to the family of U.S. Navy Seaman Patrick Corcoran during his funeral.

The 19-year-old was asleep aboard the USS Frank E. Evans in 1969 when the ship collided with an Australian aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.

The destroyer was cut in half and its bow sank in minutes. The body of one sailor was recovered. Thirty-seven others survived and 73 were killed. Corcoran’s body was never found.

Neighbor Tom Schaffer said he lets Corcoran’s family use his flagpole. The family typically flies the flag every year on Memorial Day, but elected to go with Independence Day this year due to rain. It was supposed to fly for a single day.

Schaffer said he was drinking coffee on his porch when he noticed it had disappeared.

“The rope was hanging. I just walked to the end and looked up and said, ‘No, this can’t be true.’ But it was,” Schaffer said.

North Wildwood Police Capt. John Stevenson said Tom Corcoran, 56, of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, notified them it was missing.

“It is a piece of our family, there is going to be another piece missing. We didn’t get the body back and now … the only symbolism behind that is gone also,” Tom Corcoran said.

The thieves are suspected in at least two other flag thefts in the area, police said.

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