One Man’s War

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American Servicemen in Vietnam
American Servicemen in Vietnam

A truly astonishing story came to light this week here in Vietnam. In 1968 Sgt. John Hartley-Roberston of the Green Berets was presumed dead when his helicopter was shot down in a ball of flame in a special ops mission over Laos. His name was duly etched onto the War memorial in Washington DC. However, Emmy award winning film maker Michael Jurgensen, has claimed that Sgt. Hartley-Robinson has been found alive and well and living in South Central Vietnam. He is now 76 years of age and has, incredibly, forgotten how to speak English.

It is a story that is full of intrigue, worthy of a Hollywood film plot. The documentary follows a Vietnam Vet’s quest to prove the truth behind this story. It is claimed that people knew of his whereabouts as early as 1982. Tom Faunce had spoken to the man claiming to be Hartley-Robertson and believes his story. He claims that he was captured by the North Vietnamese who kept him prisoner in the jungle. Locked in a cage he was beaten and starved for four years before escaping into the surrounding jungle. He was eventually discovered in a field by a woman. She nursed him back to health and later became his wife. He took on the identity of her dead husband and registered as a French Vietnamese. He took on the name Dan Tan Ngoc.

Stories had been around for a while that this guy was an ex American servicemen who had simply not gone home. Faunce tracked him down and spent hours talking to him. He is convinced it is Hartley-Robertson. Bizarrely he was interviewed by the American Embassy twenty years ago, who took his finger prints and tried to determine if it was him. But they never contacted his family. He has two sisters. Rumours abound that there are even more cases similar to this one. When asked about this Jurgensen, said, ‘A highly-placed source has told him [Faunce] there are and it’s not because the Vietnamese won’t let them go, it’s more the U.S. Military doesn’t want them to come home’.

Hartley-Robertson now appears to be suffering from dementia and the truth may never be proven as his sisters, whilst initially agreeing to a DNA test have now changed their minds. His sister Jean who lives in Canada, has met with him. She said, “There’s no question. 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” Another incident that leads the film makers to believe the story was when the ex green beret met his brother-in-law, he stated that he remembered he worked in a drug store. This is in fact true.

It is an extremely poignant story all round, a man suffering from PTSD found wandering in a field, nursed to health falls in love and marries his nurse. He forgets about his past life for 40 years and now they have been re-united. It seems that the sisters have refused the DNA test, possibly as they are just scared of the absolute truth. But they are convinced it’s him.

The film premiered at the Toronto Hot Docs festival this week. The audience were, as one, moved to tears.