A Green Beret who was listed MIA when his helicopter was shot down on a Laos mission in 1968 has been found living in a remote Vietnam village, according to a documentary that debuted on Tuesday at a film festival in Toronto.
By 1976, Sgt. John Hartley Robertson of Birmingham, Ala., was presumed dead. His name would be etched on the Vietnam War memorial. Now a frail 76 with poor memory and what could be signs of dementia, a man calling himself Robertson told filmmakers how North Vietnamese captured him and held him as a POW so many years ago.
“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!’ ”
Four years later, he escaped and was helped by a Vietnamese woman who would later become his second wife, he said.
The filmmakers were initially skeptical when they heard of Robertson. “The MIA story was pretty unbelievable, pretty grandiose,” Michael Jorgensen, an Emmy-award winning documentarian, told the Globe and Mail.
Not only does “Robertson” have a faltering memory, he no longer can speak English. He was interviewed in Vietnamese for the documentary.
The filmmakers reunite “Robertson” with a former trainee (who swears he’s the buddy he knew in 1960) and his only surviving sibling.
“When I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes, there was no question that was my brother,” said Jean Robertson Holley, his 80-year-old sister.
Robertson’s American wife and their two daughters did not wish to take part in the documentary.
The man calling himself Robertson remains in Vietnam with his second family.
Jorgensen’s “Unclaimed” will be shown at the GI Film Festival in Washington in May.
UPDATE: The man claiming to be Robertson is a fraud, reports The Independent. Not so fast, the filmmaker tells the Globe and Mail. Jorgensen is demanding that the U.S. provide proof that he’s a fraud.
– M.S. Scully