By Mark E. Vogler
---- — LAWRENCE — After 45 years, the late Marine Cpl. Robert Daniel Corriveau finally got an honorable homecoming yesterday — a true hero’s tribute fitting for the three-time Purple Heart winner.
A police detail closed the corner of Hampshire and Alder streets shortly before 2 p.m. so the city could dedicate “Corriveau Square.” The ceremony marked the anniversary of the Marine’s death — the day his unidentified body was discovered on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The military had wrongly classified the then-20-year-old Marine from Lawrence as a deserter until a year ago. It never connected him to the murder victim found on the state highway. Corriveau had vanished from a psychiatric hospital in Philadelphia several hours before state police found the corpse they named “John Doe,” who had been stabbed through the heart. The case remains unsolved.
Deserters don’t get a street marker with their name on it, an honor guard, a rifle detail, a bugler playing taps and a solemn ceremony near a home where they once lived. But Corriveau got all of that and a public apology from the city’s veteran services director, Jaime Melendez, on behalf of a grateful city.
“Cpl. Corriveau’s service to this nation is unequaled,” Melendez told the group of close to 100 gathered at the intersection for the dedication ceremony.
Melendez stressed it was unfortunate for the fallen Marine “to serve this nation so honorably and for so long not to be recognized.”
“We bring him home ... We do it with honor and dignity, that which he deserved.”
Melendez also cited the tenacious campaign by Corriveau’s younger sister to clear his name. Virginia Cleary, of North Conway, N.H. refused to accept the military’s assertion that her brother was a deserter. It took more than four decades for the military to admit that Cleary was right.
“Her perseverance and dedication to this effort speaks wonders, not only to her character, but the character of Cpl. Corriveau as well,” Melendez said.
“We as a city, as a state and as a nation owe you a debt of gratitude that will probably never be paid,” the city’s veteran services director said, addressing Cpl. Corriveau and his family.
It was a short, but moving ceremony. The Lawrence Police Department Honor Guard, led by Sgt. Michael Simard, stood at attention as a four-man rifle detail from the American Legion Post 8 of Andover shot three rounds into the air. A bugler from the post played taps.
Cleary, accompanied by her family, pulled off the cloth to unveil the plaque marking Cpl. Corriveau Square. It reads “Vietnam Veteran, 1 April 1965 to 18 Nov. 1968.”
Dan Donegan, past commander of the Queen City Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans, opened the ceremony with a blessing. Later, he returned to share remembrances of his boyhood friend and the neighborhood they shared.
“He was one of us and we’ll never forget him,” Donegan said, noting that he had grown up in Lawrence and was close friends with Corriveau.
“Bobby was an honorable kid. He was tough. Sometimes, I think his head was made out of stone. Two days after he left for Pennsylvania, I was leaving for Vietnam,” the Army veteran recalled.
The last time Donegan saw his friend, he wished him well and told him he would see him again, back in Lawrence.
“No, I’m not coming back here,” Donegan recalled Corriveau telling him.
“I’m going to California to be a Hell’s Angel.”
Corriveau never came back to Lawrence and never went to California. Donegan, always thought he was headed out that way, until reading about his friend’s fatal ending a year ago.
“He was an honorable guy and he’d never turn on one of his brothers,” Donegan said.
Donegan was one a handful of friends who showed up at the square yesterday to show their support and sympathy for the Corriveau family.
Grade school chum Tom Cleary, no relation to Virginia, looked like a friend at a funeral as he walked toward the family after the ceremony.
“I’m really sorry,” Tom Cleary, 65, of Windham, N.H., told Virginia.
“No family should have to go through this. It’s just shouldn’t happen to anyone,” he said.
Tom Cleary said he was close friends with Corriveau, from kindergarten through the fourth grade at the Lawlor School in Lawrence.
“I remember him as an honorable person and a good friend,” he told Virginia.
“Not to know what happened to him all these years was a shame,” he said.
Virginia thanked her brother’s friend from more than a half century ago.
“Bobby’s home now. I’m just glad he’s finally home,” she said.