"Unclaimed" charts search for forgotten Vietman vet

A film posits that U.S. soldier John Hartley Robertson, declared dead in 1968, is still alive in Vietnam UPDATED

By Prachi Gupta

Published April 29, 2013 4:04PM (EDT)

UPDATE: The identity of the main claiming to be Robertson has been revealed to be Dang Tan Ngoc, a Vietnamese citizen who has also impersonated other Vietnam vets.

Filmmaker Michael Jorgensen has charted a remarkable journey with Vietnam vet Tom Faunce in the documentary "Unclaimed," which aims to reconnect a U.S. Vietnam war vet, reported dead in 1968, with his American family.

The man, whom Faunce believes to be Special Forces Green Beret Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson, remembers only that his helicopter was shot down in Laos in 1968 and that he had a wife and children in Alabama. Though presumed dead by Americans, the man says that he survived a year of torture in Vietnam and then married the nurse who cared for him.

From the Toronto Star:

Robertson’s story seems unbelievable. And Jorgensen was equally skeptical when Faunce contacted him in 2012 about making a doc in the hope it would add muscle to his quest to reunite Robertson with his American family.

Robertson was fingerprinted at a U.S. embassy in 2010. Faunce says he was later told, “There’s not enough proof to prove this is John Hartley Robertson. And I responded, ‘There’s not enough proof to prove he isn’t.’”

Unclaimed makes a compelling case. There is physical proof of Robertson’s birthplace, collected in dramatic fashion onscreen; a tearful meeting in Vietnam with a soldier who was trained by Robertson in 1960 and said he knew him on sight; and a heart-wrenching reunion with his only surviving sister — 80-year-old Jean Robertson-Holly — in Edmonton in December 2012 that left the audience at the Toronto screening wiping away tears.

Robertson-Holly and the woman thought to be Robertson's American wife, along with his two children, declined to participate in DNA testing, however.

"Does Jorgensen believe that the man Faunce found in Vietnam is American soldier John Hartley Robertson?" asked the Star.

“It does not matter what I think,” said Jorgensen. “There’s no doubt in the family.”

Prachi Gupta

Prachi Gupta is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on pop culture. Follow her on Twitter at @prachigu or email her at pgupta@salon.com.

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Documentaries John Hartley Robertson Unclaimed Vietnam War War