Robertson family archives Former Green Beret John H. Robertson was the member of an elite MACV-SOG unit when his helicopter was shot down over Laos in 1968. His name appears on panel 64E, Line 8 of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as Killed In Action. But is he still living in Southeast Asia? His story is the focus of Unclaimed, a feature-length documentary written, produced and directed by Michael Jorgensen of Myth Merchant Films. ()
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A man featured in a new documentary because he claims to be an American soldier who vanished in the Vietnam War has been exposed as a Vietnamese citizen.
Dang Than Ngoc, a mixed-race Vietnamese citizen, had been posing as Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson, a member of the Green Berets who was presumed dead after his helicopter was shot down in 1968, according to the U.S. government.
The government compared DNA samples from Ngoc to samples taken from Robertson’s brother and one of his sisters. The Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory determined the DNA sequences from Ngoc did not match either of Robertson’s siblings.
Officially, Robertson remains “unaccounted for,” according to a Defense Prisoner Of War/Missing Personnel Office statement: “All claims and alleged live sighting reports related to Robertson have been investigated, and found to be false.”
The documentary “Unclaimed,” set to make its U.S. debut May 12, tells the story of Vietnam veteran Tom Faunce’s journey to reunite his “Army brother” with his family and honor his commitment to “leave no man behind.”
“I never set out to prove his identity. The film was about one Vietnam veteran’s journey to help a guy find this man’s family,” said the film’s Canadian director, Michael Jorgensen. “Tom’s amazing story of what it means to be human.”
Jorgensen, in an interview with Maclean’s magazine, suggested Robertson was abandoned by the U.S. government and there has been an elaborate conspiracy to cover up the case.
The film is scheduled to be shown at the GI Film Festival, set to open in Washington, D.C.
Brandon L. Millett, co-founder and president, said in a statement that viewers will be told before the movie about the controversy surrounding it.
“Whether fact or fiction, this is a fascinating story about a Vietnam Veteran ... who dedicates himself to bringing home someone he believes to be an American GI left behind,” Millett said. “Even if he is chasing a myth, we feel his story is compelling and worth telling, as long as it is accompanied by a disclosure to viewers about the controversy surrounding it.”
Robertson, according to the documentary, was on a covert mission in Laos when his helicopter went down. DPMO says he was aboard a Vietnamese Air Force H-34 helicopter that came under heavy enemy ground fire, struck a row of trees and burst into flames.
Robertson was declared missing in action in 1968 and reclassified as killed in action in 1976. His name is etched on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The documentary follows Faunce, a traumatized Vietnam veteran turned devout Christian, as he seeks to determine the identity of the man who claims to be Robertson.
Ngoc does not speak English, says he remembers little of his previous life, and has married a Vietnamese woman he says rescued him. He claims to have been taken prisoner and tortured after his helicopter crashed.
The film’s climax is a tearful meeting between Ngoc and Robertson’s 80-year-old sister Jean Holley and her family members. He has since returned to Vietnam to live with his Vietnamese wife and children.
“We never forgot about you,” Holley tells him.
Jorgensen told The Toronto Star that Holley said, “‘I was certain it was him in the video, but when I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes, there was no question that was my brother.’”
According to the DPMO, Ngoc was interviewed in 2006 over his past claims that he was a U.S. soldier and he admitted to being a Vietnamese citizen.
In 2009, Ngoc was interviewed by U.S. officials, who collected his fingerprints and hair samples for analysis. The FBI analyzed the fingerprints and determined they did not match Robertson’s.
Don Bendell, an author and former Green Beret who served in the special forces in Vietnam, said he was part of a group of distinguished veterans who exposed Ngoc years ago when Ngoc was posing as a different POW. Bendell said the idea that a highly trained Green Beret would lose the ability to speak his own language was “ludicrous.”
Bendell told Army Times he is furious with the GI Film Festival’s organizers, who he says should not show the film.
“Once you’re told it’s a con, don’t do it,” he said. “To do it and not be running away from [the film], it sickens me.”