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Frankie Bloomer

Real Name: Frank Joseph Bloomer Jr.
Case: Lost Loved One
Location: Salerno, Italy
Date: September 11, 1943

Photo of USS Rowan survivors

Case[]

Details: Most Americans are familiar with the heartbreaking stories of American soldiers still missing in action in Vietnam, and the anguish and uncertainty their families face. It is astonishing to think that there are other families who have been carrying that same terrible burden ever since World War II. Yet along with that burden of despair comes the miracle of hope. This is the story of one American sailor’s family and their steadfast dream of reunion.
Frank Joseph “Frankie” Bloomer was born on October 12, 1921, in Zeigler, Illinois. The younger of two sons, he loved the outdoors, especially swimming and fishing. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in the Navy against his parents’ wishes. He served as a third-class radio technician aboard the USS Rowan, a destroyer operating in the Mediterranean Sea. On September 11, 1943, just off the coast of Salerno, Italy, a German U-boat targeted the Rowan. Its torpedo hit home, and the Rowan sank in less than a minute. 202 American sailors were killed. Frankie, then twenty-one, was reported missing in action.
Frankie’s parents learned about the sinking of the Rowan from their car radio. A short time later, they were notified that he was missing in action. Incredibly, less than a week later, his mother, Jane, saw a newspaper article with a photograph of three survivors of the USS Rowan (shown above). She recognized the man in the middle as Frankie. She immediately contacted her son Harry’s wife, Dorothy. The two women compared the newspaper photograph with pictures of Frankie. Dorothy was also positive that the survivor was him. She noticed that they had matching characteristics and facial features.
Jane took the photographs to a local mortician who was an expert at photo identification. He noticed that the man in the photograph was holding his arm a certain way, as if he had previously broken it. Jane confirmed that Frankie had broken his arm as a child. The mortician was certain that Frankie was the man in the photograph. The identification gave Jane a lot more hope that Frankie was still alive. She wrote to the American Red Cross to see if they could help her. They told her that they got all of their information from the War Department. They said that they could not find any information that she did not already have.
One year after the ship's sinking, Frankie was declared "killed in action." However, Jane never stopped believing that he was still alive. When she died in 1971, she passed her hope to a new generation: her granddaughter, Janie. Janie first learned about her uncle Frankie when she visited her grandparents' house as a young child. She noticed his picture sitting on the mantel. She asked Jane who was in the picture. Jane told her that it was her Uncle Frankie. Janie asked why she had never met him. Jane told her that he went into the Navy a long time ago and he “just hasn’t come back yet. But I’m sure he will.”
Janie believes that her grandparents lived with the haunting feeling of never knowing if Frankie was alive or dead until the day they died. She remembers her grandparents commemorating Frankie’s birthday in different ways from year to year. It never went forgotten. Janie recalls a time when she was at her grandparents’ house for dinner and there happened to be a cake on the table. She asked Jane why it was there, and Jane told her that it was for Frankie’s birthday. Janie asked where he was, and Jane told her that he was away. She then asked when he was going to come back, and Jane said that she did not know.
Janie is searching to find the answer of whether Frankie is alive or dead so that she does not end up the same way that her grandparents did. They both died not knowing the real truth. In 1979, Janie’s parents erected a memorial headstone for Frankie. She goes to the grave occasionally; the rest of the family is buried in close proximity. For her, it is strange to look at Frankie’s grave marker knowing that he is not buried there. She thinks of the possibility that he could be walking the streets somewhere, despite the fact that there is a grave marker with his name on it.
What could have happened to Frankie? The picture of the three survivors was taken while they were awaiting transfer to a Russian hospital ship. There have been rumors of American servicemen detained in the Soviet Union ever since World War II. The key to this mystery may lie with the other two men in the photograph.
Extra Notes:

  • This case first aired on the January 30, 1991 episode.
  • It was submitted to the show by Frankie's niece Janie.
  • A similar story of a missing World War II soldier is Sylvan Lazarus.

Results: Solved. After the story aired, Unsolved Mysteries received a letter from USS Rowan survivor Wayne Easterling of Mt. Zion, Illinois. He stated that he was the man on the left in the photograph. He revealed that the man in the middle of the photo was not Frankie, but instead his friend Richard Hennessy, who died in 1974. Wayne also identified the man on the right as attorney Chris Harvey of Decatur, Georgia. The Bloomers, along with the Navy, now accept that Frankie died during the attack on USS Rowan. Although this is not the news that the Bloomer family had hoped for, they are glad that they have a resolution to their search.
On March 22, 2007, Wayne passed away at the age of eighty-eight.
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