May 2, 2013. Toronto. What would you do if you stumbled across an American POW/MIA left in Vietnam since the late 1960’s when his plane was shot down over Laos? The answer – head to Toronto and tell the world. Why Toronto instead of Washington or Hollywood? Because America just doesn’t seem to care or believe anymore. But ready or not, the documentary debuts in the US this month.
Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson (classified as KIA) prior to his capture in Laos in 1968. A Canadian filmmaker, his former soldiers, his wife and sister, all believe he is the man currently living in Vietnam.
Shot down over Laos in 1968, Army Green Beret and Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson was erroneously classified by the Pentagon as ‘Killed in Action’ (KIA). But now that an independent effort by retired US veterans from the Vietnam War appears to have found him alive, the US government and their propaganda machine in New York and Hollywood are doing everything in their power to black-out the news.
‘Unclaimed’, the documentary
With little or no interest on the part of the American people, and with only resistance and denials by the US military and the US federal government, Vietnam War veteran Tom Faunce and independent Canadian filmmaker Michael Jorgensen headed to Toronto to make a documentary detailing their successful quest to find Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson.
The documentary film debuted three days ago at Toronto’s 20th annual Hot Docs film festival. According to Canadian media reports, the movie was met with a teary-eyed, emotional response by the first round of movie goers. By all accounts, including those of a number of Canadian media outlets who verified the story detailed in the film, interviewed family members of John Hartley Robertson, and researched the US military records - this story is true.
Quest for a forgotten brother
The story begins in 2008. Like many veterans of the Vietnam War, from both sides, humanitarian efforts in the previously war-torn country are a therapeutic and spiritually rewarding way to come to terms with the unimaginable personal experiences of war. That’s one of the reasons US Vietnam veteran Tom Faunce took part in a humanitarian mission to the Southeast Asian country five years ago.
While in Vietnam, Faunce heard stories from the local Vietnamese of an aged American who’s been living among them since he was released from a Communist prisoner of war camp sometime after his plane went down in Laos in 1968. Intrigued by the story of what Faunce calls a forgotten fellow American military ‘brother’, and motivated by the sincerity of the villagers’ accounts, he did some research upon returning back the United States.
Meeting only resistance from US government officials, Tom Faunce tracked down as much information as he could on his own. When his research seemed to come as far as it could, he had the name of a Special Forces Green Beret named John Hartley Robertson, his official story of being killed in action, his unofficial story of being released from a Vietnamese POW camp, his fingerprints, and contact information for Robertson’s closest surviving family members – his sister and wife.
Returning to Vietnam to find a ‘brother’
In 2010, Faunce turned as much information as he had over to the US military in the hopes that they would use their vast resources and authority to rescue the long lost Master Sgt. Instead, he was met with the official US response, “There’s not enough proof to prove this is John Hartley Robertson.” So Tom Faunce traveled to Vietnam himself to find out once and for all.
As filmmaker Michael Jorgensen told the Toronto Star at the premier of his documentary ‘Unclaimed’ this week, Faunce went to Southeast Asia to prove this man wasn’t Robertson, not that he was. “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.’ Instead, Faunce came back even more convinced that the man he interviewed truly was the former POW John Hartley Robertson.
To aid him in getting to the truth, Faunce brought with him a former Green Beret who served under Robertson and who insisted he would know him on site even after all these years. After the emotional reunion, the Special Forces vet was positive it was Robertson. With every confirmation falling into place, Tom Faunce arranged for Robertson to be flown to Edmonton, Canada where he would meet his sister after 45 years.
“There’s no question, I was certain it was him in the video,” 80 year-old Jean Robertson-Holly said of her long lost brother John Hartley Robertson, “But when I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes, there was no question that was my brother.” Another important person to meet and verify the man’s authenticity was Robertson’s American wife of almost 50 years who believed the US government’s account that he’d been killed during the war. Both have since remarried and have no intention of reuniting after all these years.
Robertson comes to Canada because US wants no part
A number of independent participants in the December 2012 reunion in Edmonton also came away one hundred percent sure this man is Robertson. As a fellow POW/MIA searcher who came to the meeting to see for himself described, “To tell you the truth, after I interviewed him the first time, I was ninety percent sure he is MIA. I still didn’t believe, until I saw the family reunion.”
One of the clinching moments for many of the skeptical attendees was the moment John Hartley Robertson walked in the door to meet his sister and her husband after nearly a half century. “These memories pop out. I’ll give you an example that’s not in the move,” the documentary’s producer Michael Jorgensen explains, “The minute he walks in that room in Edmonton, he knows its Jean. He says to Henry, her husband, ‘Oh, I remember, you worked in the drugstore.’” As it turned out, the man has been working at the neighborhood drugstore for the past 50 years.
Back home to Vietnam, major questions for US Government
Parting ways after the Canadian reunion and the conclusion of filming, John Hartley Robertson returned to Vietnam and his own wife and children whom he insists he is eternally devoted to. His American wife, their children, and his sister, also returned to their lives back in the US. All sides were content and happy to live the lives they’ve lived for the past 45 years rather than try to force virtual strangers to somehow pick up where they left off.
After his capture in 1968, Robertson says he was tortured for about a year before breaking down mentally. After that, his captors simply released him from the Communist POW camp in Vietnam. Robertson says his life was saved by a local Vietnamese girl who he fell in love with and married. After four decades, the former Master Sgt. can’t even speak English any longer and can only communicate in Vietnamese. He also appears to be suffering from periodic spurts of dementia. That should probably be expected considering his old age and everything he’s been through.
Sadly, after the reunion in Edmonton in December, Robertson’s 80 year-old sister Jean was involved in a terrible automobile accident. She is still hospitalized as of this writing. Before departing Edmonton, Jean told the gathered group that she intended to, “do right by Johnny.” Specifically, Robertson’s sister wants to know why the US government has done so much to deny her the knowledge that her brother is still alive. As the film’s producer points out, it’s now known that reports of Robertson’s survival and existence in Vietnam were known to US officials as far back as 1982.
The US government isn’t the only one who doesn’t believe the man claiming to be Master Sgt. John Hartley Robertson is actually him. A number of individuals and media publications insist that the entire story is a fraud. As detailed by Business Insider, ‘damning evidence suggests the man, actually a Vietnamese citizen named Dang Than Ngoc, has been lying about his identity for years.’
Robertson claims he merely assumed the dead Vietnamese man’s identity shortly after his release in order to survive. The business publication also includes a list of contrary evidence, including, ‘FBI fingerprint analysis, a recorded admission several years ago by Ngoc, and DNA testing.’ Those tests weren’t independent however, as they were conducted by the US military. For their part, Robertson’s newly reunited sister and wife insist they don’t need any DNA tests. They’re positive it’s him.
Documentary comes to the US
That is just one of the questions Michael Jorgensen’s film ‘Unclaimed’ poses to American officials in Washington. “Are there other John Hartley Robertsons in Vietnam?” Jorgensen asks. According to the same sources that helped them find Robertson, there are many more American POW/MIA’s still alive in the Southeast nation, even today. They insist that it’s not because Vietnam won’t let them leave, it’s because the United States doesn’t want them.
On May 12, 2013, the film ‘Unclaimed’ will debut in the US in Washington DC. Jorgensen, the documentary’s producer, says he believes that when American audiences finally view the film, it will, “blow their mind.” He explains that it’s common knowledge that in America, “They don’t hold anything higher than service to the country.” He was obviously referring to the American people, not the American government.
For more information on the documentary ‘Unclaimed’, visit MovieUnclaimed.com.