A U.S. veteran says he found a fellow soldier, who was reported killed in action, living in a remote Vietnamese village 44 years after his helicopter was gunned down over Laos during a clandestine mission.
Now 76, the onetime Green Beret’s American family says that he does not remember English, his birthday or American children’s names — all he recalls is that he had an American family before the Viet Cong captured him.
The man believed to be Sgt. John Hartley Robertson was locked in a bamboo cage mid-1968 and tortured for a year until his release. Significantly changed from the experience, he married the Vietnamese nurse who treated him and he took her dead husband’s name, Dang Tan Ngoc.
The name he purportedly abandoned is one of 60,000 dead etched on Washington, D.C.’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
This astonishing second life is the focus of filmmaker Michael Jorgensen’s new documentary "Unclaimed," which premieres at Toronto’s Hot Docs festival Tuesday.
Robertson’s American wife and two children initially agreed to participate in DNA testing to verify his identify but later declined. Their lives have continued since the disappearance, just as Robertson’s life has continued.
"There’s maybe a bit of a misconception. Everybody assumes: ‘Well, obviously, he wants to come back to North America,’" Jorgensen said. "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."