Movie UnclaimedDang Than NgocThe subject the new documentary “Unclaimed” purports to be U.S. soldier John Hartley Robertson, who was lost over Vietnam more than 44 years ago. But damning evidence suggests the man, actually a Vietnamese citizen named Dang Than Ngoc, has been lying about his identity for years.
That evidence includes FBI fingerprint analysis, a recorded admission several years ago by Ngoc, and DNA testing.
In “Unclaimed,” Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Jorgensen follows Vietnam veteran Tom Faunce into the depths of Vietnam to meet the man Faunce claims to be Sergeant First Class (SFC) John Hartley Robertson. A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier lost in 1968 when his helicopter came under heavy fire and crashed in the tropical southeast Asian jungle.
Witness reports at the time of the crash said the chopper hit the forest canopy and went up in flames in a crash that left little hope for survivors. Jorgensen claimed to be sceptical when he first heard Robertson is now 76-years-old and living the simple life of a rural Vietnamese peasant.
But Jorgensen’s doubt faded when he accepted the project from Faunce and watched SFC Robertson’s family meet the man they last saw nearly four-and-a-half decades before. The filmmaker said Robertson’s sister Jena, now 80, had no doubt about the man she met saying he was her brother and her response helped ease any remaining doubts.
Jorgensen told The Toronto Star Jean said, “‘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.'”
This despite Robertson’s sister Jean Robertson-Holly’s insistence DNA testing of Robertson is “unnecessary” and Robertson’s American wife and two children’s refusal to participate in DNA testing.
Jean’s daughter Gail Metcalf, representing the Robertson family in a story to Macleans, said the government never contacted the family for DNA samples.
Movie UnclaimedTom FaunceJorgensen is not the first to look for Robertson, and apparently reach conclusions about Dang Than Ngoc.
Agencies such as the defence Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) – that works through the Office of the Secretary defence – first received photographs and video of the man claiming to be Robertson in 2002.
Jessica Pierno, Public Affairs Director of DPMO, told us during a phone interview on April 30, “The man in the film is not Sergeant Robertson. He’s a Vietnamese citizen and his name is Dang Than Ngoc.”
Pierno knows this because she tells us that FBI fingerprint analysis determined Ngoc’s fingerprints do not match Robertson’s and that Armed Forces DNA samples from Robertson also failed to match Ngoc’s. Pierno also states that Ngoc himself admitted to investigators seven years ago that he was lying about being Robertson.
Pierno says that admission was recorded at the U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City by one of several defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) investigation teams assigned to Ngoc’s case throughout the years.
Someone else familiar with Ngoc’s story is Lieutenant Colonel Todd Emoto (Ret.)
commander of the Joint Prisoner of War Accounting Command in Hanoi from 2008 to 2010.
“In the two years I oversaw that office there were at least half-a-dozen investigations into the [Ngoc] case,” Emoto told Business Insider in a phone interview from his home in Washington.
Movie UnclaimedJohns Hartley RobertsonEven though a case has already been looked into and found baseless, the U.S. government mandates that a fresh investigation be initiated “every single time, no matter what,” Emoto said.
“I mean this guy was a frequent flier at our office,” the colonel said, his voice rising. “It totally blows my mind that he’s gotten this far. He forgot how to speak English and his kid’s names? Who falls for that?”
Emoto said the ruse of impersonating a missing servicemember is a common guise used in Vietnam to rob tourists of their cash.
Michael Jorgensen told The Toronto Star that one high-placed government source told him, “It’s not that the Vietnamese won’t let him (Robertson) go; it’s that our government doesn’t want him.”
Jorgensen went on to tell The Star that he believes audiences in America,
“…where they don’t hold anything higher than service to the country,” will “lose their minds” when ‘Unclaimed’ screens at the G.I. Film Festival in Washington, D.C., in May. “They’ll come unglued.”
“Why did the Americans leave him there for all those years?” Are there other John Hartley Robertsons in Vietnam?” Jorgensen suggests a conspiracy as MacLeans mentions in its piece on the movie. “Robertson’s case is cloaked in an elaborate cover-up by the U.S. military.”
But the filmmaker is clear on the fact Ngoc/Robertson does not wish to return to the U.S.
“There’s maybe a bit of a misconception; everybody assumes: ‘Well, obviously, he wants to come back to North America,'” noted Jorgensen. “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.”
But the likelihood that Ngoc wants to stay in Vietnam probably isn’t because he’s necessarily “happier” being there, its more likely he was refused entry by the U.S. Government. Jessica Pierno tells us that “wrangling a visa is often part of the con and the U.S. Government doesn’t give them [VISAS] to people lying about being MIA special forces soldiers.”
The tearful climax of the documentary, the “re-union” where Robertson’s family meet Ngoc, was filmed in Canada, not the United States.
The doubt and controversy surrounding “Unclaimed” is no surprise to president of the GI Film Festival, Brandon Millett. “We are certainly aware of the controversy surrounding the film,” Millett told us in an emai. He added that many former Prisoners Of War (POWs) believe, “the man in the film claiming to be a POW is not telling the truth.”
Those POWs will have growing company.
As reports have started coming out refuting Ngoc’s credibility, and have started calling him a fraud, Jorgensen has begun backtracking by saying that the film is really about Faunce’s consuming search for Robertson, and not that he believes they actually found Robertson in Vietnam.
The evidence stacked against him, Jorgensen will have to face many hard questions as to why he would make this documentary in the first place and to subject the real Robertson family to false hope, even in the face of the mountains of evidence against Dang Than Ngoc.
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