LAWRENCE — When the disparaging stories started circulating about Marine Cpl. Robert Daniel Corriveau being a deserter 45 years ago, his younger sister wouldn’t have any part of it.
“One thing I was certain of, Bobby would have never deserted,” Virginia Cleary said yesterday, as she sat in the Veterans Services office at City Hall.
“Not this Marine, so proud in his uniform. Not for one minute did I believe that. I would never give up. Sure, I was repeatedly told to let it go, ‘You will never find out what happened to him,’ ” said Cleary, 59, of North Conway, N.H. “But this just fueled my cause.”
It was Cleary’s tenacious quest for the truth about what happened to her brother that removed the “deserter” tag that stuck with him for more than four decades. Through research and DNA testing, she proved that a John Doe found murdered around the time of her brother’s disappearance from Philadelphia Naval Hospital was indeed her brother.
“I have never walked away from a fight,” she said. “Bobby used to say I was a lot like him, I guess I am because I did not walk away.”
“If the roles were reversed I believe he would have looked for me,” she said.
Cleary was six and a half years younger than Corriveau at the time of his disappearance. He was less than a month from his 21st birthday.
There was a strong brother-sister bond. She displayed copies of letters he frequently wrote to her during his military days, referring to her affectionately as “My little chic-a-dee,” “Sweetheart,” “my favorite girl” and “my princess.”
“My brothers treated me like a princess,” Cleary said.
The city’s Veteran Services Director Jaime Melendez credited Cleary’s persistence with “correcting an injustice.”
He added that Cleary’s efforts reflected “the spirit of the warrior ethos — that we will never leave a fallen comrade.”
“When he could no longer fight for himself, I think you were a blessing and angel who showed up to fight for him. And in the end, justice was done,” Melendez told Cleary.