Moral Low Ground


US Army Green Beret John Hartley Robertson Reportedly Found Alive in Vietnam 44 Years after Being Declared MIA

John Hartley Robertson (Photo: "Unclaimed")

John Hartley Robertson (Photo: “Unclaimed”)

A US Army Green Beret captured during the Vietnam War 44 years ago has reportedly been found living in a remote Vietnamese village.

Sgt. John Hartley Robertson was on a secret mission, flying without identification in a helicopter over Laos when he was shot down on May 20, 1968. A search and rescue mission was impossible and the Alabama native was declared ‘missing in action.’ Presumed dead, Robertson was officially listed as killed in action in 1976. Later, his name joined the more than 58,000 other names of US service members killed in action carved into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, DC.

Robertson left behind a wife, Wanda, and two daughters in the United States. His family long claimed that they had evidence that he’d survived the helicopter crash and was being held in a Vietnamese prison.

Enter Tom Faunce, a Vietnam veteran, and Michael Jorgensen, an Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker. Faunce learned of “an Army brother” who’d been shot down and captured during the war while traveling to South East Asia on a humanitarian mission in 2008. This soldier, Faunce heard, had been declared dead long ago and forgotten by his government.

According to the Toronto Globe and Mail, Faunce, a born-again Christian who lives by the personal credo of “radical love: no one left behind,” decided to make it his mission to discover Robertson’s fate and track him down if he really was still alive.

It turns out that he was. Now 76, hunched and frail with no memory whatsoever of the English language– and not much memory at all due to dementia, Robertson was living in a remote village and went by the name Dang Tan Ngoc. He couldn’t even remember his own birthday or the names of his two American daughters. He did, however, recall the harrowing details of his shoot-down, capture and imprisonment.

At the suggestion of a friend, Faunce contacted Jorgensen and asked if the Canadian if he would be interested in making a documentary about Robertson to help reconnect him with his American family.

“The MIA story was pretty unbelievable, pretty grandiose,” Jorgensen told the Globe and Mail. “I was very skeptical.” But Faunce intrigued him, and he agreed to take on the project.

The end result would be “Unclaimed,” a documentary film opening at the Hot Docs festival in Toronto on April 30.

Curiously, after expressing initial interest, Robertson’s wife and daughters did not want to participate.

“Somebody suggested to me maybe that’s because the daughters don’t want to know if it’s him,” Jorgensen is quoted in the Daily Mail. “It’s kind of like, ‘That was an ugly war, it was a long time ago. We just want it to go away.'”

“I don’t know. What would compel you not to want to know if this person is your biological father?” Jorgensen asked.

Jorgensen traveled to meet Robertson and hear his amazing story.

Captured immediately by North Vietnamese forces following the helicopter crash, the Green Beret found himself in a world of hurt.

“They locked me up, high in the forest, in a cage,” Robertson recalled. “I was in and out of consciousness from torture and starvation… I thought I would die.”

Robertson said he escaped after four hellish years in captivity. While hiding in the woods, a woman found him and nursed him back to health. That woman is now his wife. He took her dead husband’s surname and assumed the identity of a French-Vietnamese resident named Dang Tan Ngoc. He had children with his new wife. He never made any attempt to contact Wanda and his daughters back in Alabama.

Faunce was eventually able to track down Robertson’s sole surviving sibling, 80-year-old Jean Robertson-Holly, and arrange a tearful on-camera reunion.

“There’s no question,” Robertson-Holly said after her face-to-face meeting with her long-lost brother. “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.”

Despite confirming with near-certainty that the old man living in a remote Vietnamese village with a wife and children is indeed John Hartley Robertson, Jorgensen still has unanswered questions.

“Why did the Americans leave him there for all those years?” he asked the Globe and Mail. “Are there other John Hartley Robertsons in Vietnam?”

Jorgensen claims that a “highly-placed source” told him there are others and that the answer to his first question was that “it’s not because the Vietnamese won’t let them go, it’s more the US military does not want them to come home.”

Robertson is going to remain in Vietnam. “There’s maybe a bit of a misconception,” Jorgensen told the Globe and Mail. “Everybody assumes, ‘well, obviously he wants to come back to North America.’ But at this point, he’s happier being back there, taking care of his wife, to whom he feels an incredible amount of loyalty, and their kids.”

“Unclaimed” will make its US premier on May 12 at the GI Film Festival in Washington, DC.

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  1. Barbara DuganMay 1, 2013 at 1:04 amReply

    This is touching and sad. How many more American servicemen were left behind? MIA bracelets were worn at home, but our Government CHOSE not to seek them out?!?

    • GeraldineMay 1, 2013 at 7:50 amReply

      Why didn’t he seek help? How many American servicemen chose to stay rather than reassert that they had survived?

  2. James AMay 1, 2013 at 4:25 amReply

    I don’t blame the government. He stayed ‘hid’ for years. First, for preservation of life. Second, by choice. No one is to blame…but more of an effort should’ve been done behind the scenes of a lost war, by our government, to repatriate our own, that wanted to.

  3. newdistMay 1, 2013 at 4:29 amReply

    So test his DNA already? Just to be sure.

  4. Erik SwendsenMay 1, 2013 at 6:16 pmReply

    Amazing story, look forward to the film.

  5. terry adamsMay 2, 2013 at 4:13 amReply

    Geraldine, you ask why didn’t he seek help? How naive you are! Seek help from whom? The government that sent him over there to a war-of-our-own-creation and then left hundreds (thousands?) of men behind, calling them MIA? You can bet the government didn’t bust ass trying to find them — soldiers are just PAWNS in all these wars our government starts. You’ve also overlooked the fact that the man had been caged, starved and tortured for FOUR YEARS before escaping. What does that do to your frame of mind? So, sit back down in your easy chair, Geraldine, while you pass judgement on someone who has suffered more than any of us will probably ever suffer in our lifetimes. I hope this documentary dissuades more and more young people from joining the military. There’s a REASON while they try to recruit extremely young people – Naivete’ and Gullibility !!!!!!!!!!!! Vietnam should have opened everybody’s eyes to what the government and the military really are !!!

  6. Just SayingMay 2, 2013 at 6:24 amReply

    Nice story. Not true. By now everybody should know this is a hoax and not even a new hoax. This man is a well-known con artist who’s been claiming to be various American servicemen since the early 1980s. He was fingerprinted in 2008 at the US embassy in Cambodia and also DNA tested and found to be a fraud.

  7. E.J. Hamilton, .Colonel, USMC, retiredMay 3, 2013 at 9:04 amReply

    Terry Adams has absolutely no clue…To suggest that our young men and women should not join the military is absurb. It is only thru the sacrifice of these fine young men and women in the military that idealistic, out-of-touch liberal do-gooders are able to enjoy the blessings of a free country. I would dare say that Terry has never spent a minute giving back, at the the sacrificial level, to the country from which he desires to reap benefits but pay no price. Freedom is not free. It has a flavor that those who never sacrificed will never know. I spent 27 years sacrificing so that “takers” like you can complain without fear of arrest. You and your type absolutely disgust me.

    • Brett WilkinsMay 3, 2013 at 11:07 amReplyAuthor

      While I respect those who have served because most who do so are unaware of the real reasons why the US fights wars (hint: it has little or nothing to do with freedom or democracy), I would ask how you reconcile your sentiments with the fact that no other organization on earth has killed more innocent civilians in more countries outside its own borders since the end of WWII than the US military.

      I would also ask if you are familiar with the work of Gen. Smedley Butler, who at the time he made his famous “War is a Racket” speech was the most highly-decorated US Marine in history? If not, here’s what he said:

      “War is just a racket… Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses… the flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag.
      I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket. There isn’t a trick in the racketeering bag that the military gang is blind to. It has its ‘finger men’ to point out enemies, its ‘muscle men’ to destroy enemies, its ‘brain men’ to plan war preparations, and a ‘Big Boss,’ Super-Nationalistic Capitalism…
      I spent 33 years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps… and during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer; a gangster for capitalism…
      I helped make Mexico… safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street…
      I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912… I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.
      During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

      Sounds a lot like Terry Adams, no?

  8. PierreJune 9, 2013 at 3:39 pmReply

    Bros chill out im a service member and there is one important thing everyone one forgot. The man behind the uniform is what matters. Because when you put it all aside the goverment can give a man a mission. However how that mission is carried out is up to him. There are countless stories to confirm so. And you idiots saying that the war is jst for oil have not been overseas. If you would have seen the amount of civilian victims the taliban has hurt and we have helped you would be amazed. As a fmf doc i can tell you, we help alot and you know nothing bra. KCCO

    • Brett WilkinsJune 9, 2013 at 3:48 pmReplyAuthor

      It doesn’t matter how many people you helped (after bombing the daylights out of them); you’re still invading and occupying– and humiliating– a sovereign nation. If the Chinese took over your town and handed out $10,000 checks to everyone, do you think your fellow Americans would welcome them with open arms? Invasion and occupation erase any good the US does. Not to mention the killing of more than 120,000 innocent civilians in Iraq and 15,000 in Afghanistan. Thank you for your service, though. You didn’t choose to invade and occupy– and I’m sure you’ve got stories of everyday deeds by US troops that saved as many lives as they took.

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