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U.S. Army Veteran 'found living in Vietnam village 44 YEARS after being shot down and presumed dead'Salem-News.com
His daughters refuse to take DNA tests to prove his identity.
(LONDON The Daily Mail) - Sgt. Robertson's name is etched along with 60,000 others onto Washington D.C.'s poignant Vietnam memorial, but now the documentary questions whether he is actually alive and well.
The filmmakers claim to have tracked him down to south-central Vietnam - where the 76-year-old is unable to remember his birthday, his American children’s names, or how to speak English.
The makers of 'Unclaimed' say that the wiry, forgetful man could very well be a missing POW from the distressing conflict, and that fellow servicemen could 'lose their minds' when they hear the story of how he never returned home.
'Sgt. Robertson' told Emmy-award winning filmmaker Michael Jorgensen that when his flaming helicopter crashed to the ground during a firefight on a Laos mountaintop, he was captured immediately by North Vietnamese soldiers.
'They locked me up, high in the forest, in a cage,' he said. 'I was in and out of consciousness from torture and starvation. The North Vietnamese soldier hit me on the head with a stick, shouting, "American!"
'Then he would hit me even harder; I thought I would die. I never said anything, though they beat and tortured me.'
Mr Robertson said he escaped after four years, hid in the woods and was found in a field by a woman who nursed him back to health and then became his wife.
He said he borrowed her late husband’s surname and birth date and was registered as a French-Vietnamese resident named Dan Tan Ngoc.
The couple then had children but no recorded attempt was made to contact his wife or children back home in America.
MISSING IN ACTION: WHO WAS JOHN HARTLEY ROBERTSON?
John Hartley Robertson was born in Birmingham, Alabama on October 25, 1936, and went by the name of Johnny. He was the third of five children born to John Cheslea and Mildred Robertson.
He grew up during World War II, and it was this influence that led him to drop out of high school at 17 so he could get his GED and join the Army, according to the film makers
He went on to join the U.S. Army Special Forces, known as the Green Berets, and was later chosen to join an elite Special Operations Group known as Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG).
On May 20, 1968, he was on a mission when his helicopter came under enemy fire and crashed. A full search mission was not possible and he was declared Missing in Action. On April 28, 1976, he was officially declared dead by the military, leaving behind a wife, Wanda Robertson, and two daughters.
The documentary follows the quest of Vietnam veteran Tom Faunce as he seeks to prove that the man he first heard about in 2008 while on a humanitarian mission was indeed a fellow serviceman.
Fonce contacted Jorgensen to see if the filmmaker would follow his story to establish that Robertson was still alive - but at first the director was cautious.
'The MIA story was pretty unbelievable, pretty grandiose,' he said to the Globe and Mail. 'I was very skeptical.'
However, what struck Jorgensen more than the idea a Vietnam veteran could have stayed undetected for 44 years was Faunce's own journey as a soldier, alcoholic and victim of child abuse.
Jorgensen said he was inspired by how Faunce would 'go all the way in helping someone he didn't even know.' He added that 'no matter how the story turned out with John, I knew there was just a great "once upon a time" with Tom.'
In Vietnam, Faunce tracked down the man who was locally rumored to be a former American Green Beret who had never returned home.
'Tom went to meet him and was very skeptical, grilled this guy up and down trying to get him to break, to say, "Oh, no, I’m just making it up." And he was adamant he was that guy,' Jorgensen told The Toronto Star.
POWS IN VIETNAM: COULD THERE STILL BE U.S. PRISONERS?
As the director delved further into the bizarre story, he discovered unusual evidence for Robertson's claims.
He found that reports existed as early as 1982 of Robertson's alleged survival, leading him to question why his family were not contacted to help provide proof.
'Why did the Americans leave him there for all those years?' Jorgensen asked The Globe and Mail. 'Are there other John Hartley Robertson's in Vietnam?'
Jorgensen answered his own question, adding 'a highly-placed source has told him there are and it's not because the Vietnamese won't let them go, it's more the U.S. Military doesn't want them to come home'.
Indeed, Jorgensen said that the U.S. government first became aware of the man as early as 1991, and tried to verify his identity in 2006. The team discovered that in 2010 Robertson was fingerprinted at the U.S. Embassy. His siblings were never informed.
Faunce was reportedly told that there was not enough proof to confirm this was John Hartley Robertson - to which they replied that there was not enough evidence to suggest he wasn't.
As the film proceeds, stronger personal reunions add to the case that the elderly man who seems to suffer from dementia is indeed the American special forces soldier.
There is a tearful reunion with a soldier who Robertson trained in 1960 - who claims he knew it was him on sight.
And there is a moving moment when the man is brought back together with his sister, 80-year-old Jean Robertson Holly, at her home in Canada - who would have been Sgt. Robertson's only surviving sister.
'Jean says... "There’s no question. 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",' Jorgensen told the Toronto Star.
This could be confirmed if Robertson-Holly agreed to DNA testing, but she said she does not need to take the test to know the man is her brother.
Jorgensen recruited a Vietnamese speaking police officer from Edmonton to act as a translator.
The translator, Hugh Tran, said that the elderly man spoke just like a Vietnamese native with no trace of an American accent - leading him to become very suspicious.
'I still didn’t believe... until I saw the family reunion,' said Tran about the emotional meeting with his sister.
Other moments made Jorgensen believe they had the right man.
At the family reunion, Robertson also met his sister's husband, Henry, and told him that he remembered him working in a drugstore. Henry did indeed work for as a pharmacist for 15 years.
And when shown pictures of his two American daughters, he reportedly cried.
Jorgensen said he believes that no matter what viewers take away from the film, which opens on Tuesday at the Toronto Hot Docs festival, the man who claims to Robertson fulfilled his wish: to see some of his American family before he dies.
Hot Docs director Chris McDonald, said he had never seen an audience react with so much emotion after seeing the film of Mr Robertson's life.
He said: 'Everyone was wobbly and teary - and curious. If this individual is a legitimate MIA left behind, as the family and filmmakers believe, it's hard to overestimate what the impact might be.'
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