Revealed: Man claiming to be Vietnam veteran Sgt John Hartley Robertson, who went missing and was presumed dead 44 years earlier, is 'exposed as a fraud'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It is claimed that the man tacked down and 'identified' for a new documentary is in fact a fraudster who the US government performed DNA tests on 20 years ago and whose story had been fully debunked

Had it been true, it would have been one of the most gripping war stories of all time.

But sadly it looks as if the man found living in the Vietnam jungle, who a new documentary claims is ‘long dead’ US army veteran Sgt John Hartley Robertson, is likely to be a fraud.

News of the “discovery” of Sgt Robertson swept the world yesterday, after details emerged of a soon-to-be-released documentary that claims an elderly man living in the remote Vietnam jungle is in fact a former Green Beret shot down and presumed dead 44 years ago.

Although DNA tests had not taken place, tearful “reunions” with a former colleague and the last surviving sister of Sgt Robertson appeared to confirm the man was who he claimed to be.

80-year-old Jean Robertson Holly even went as far as saying: “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”.

That emotional story was shattered today, however, when it was claimed that the found man was in fact a fraudster who the US government performed DNA tests on 20 years ago and whose story had been fully debunked as an attempt to exploit Vietnam’s Missing in Action and Prisoner of War groups and claim military back-pay.

According to a memo sent to a UK news organisation yesterday evening, the man claiming to be Sgt Robertson is in fact Dang Tan Ngoc – a 76-year-old Vietnamese citizen of French origin who has a history of pretending to be US army veterans.

The memo, taken from a Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office report in 2009, apparently says Ngoc first came to the attention of the US military in 2006 when he started telling people he was Sgt John Hartley Robertson.

He was apparently questioned about the claims but quickly admitted he had been lying and was in fact Vietnamese.

In 2008 Ngoc apparently began claiming to be Sgt Robertson once again, and he was taken to a US embassy in Cambodia to be fingerprinted. It was quickly established that the fingerprints did not match those of the missing army veteran.

In the documentary, titled ‘Unclaimed’ and made by the Emmy-award winning filmmaker Michael Jorgensen, the man claims that he is no longer able to speak English after living in the remote Vietnam jungle for the last 44 years.

The real Sgt Robertson is thought to have died when his helicopter was shot down during a special operation in Vietnam in 1968.  His name has been etched on Vietnam War memorials and army records list him as having been “killed in action”.

The man went on to tell a gripping story of being kept in a bamboo cage and tortured for around a year by the North Vietnamese, before going on to marry the nurse who took care of him and brought him back to health.

He also said that decades old head injuries and the early stages of dementia meant he could no longer remember the names of his wife and children.

Although it now appears that all of this was a lie, it was still enough to not only convince the documentary makers that he was telling the truth, but also to win the full support of people who knew the real Sgt Robertson.

Reports suggest Ngoc could have been impersonating Sgt Robertson since around 1982, with some Vietnam War veterans saying he could have possibly conned veteran groups out of thousands of pounds over the last 30 years.

In 1991 Ngoc attracted the attention of former CIA Paramilitary Operations Officer Billy Waugh, who was involved in the capture of Carlos the Jackal and who later tracked Osama bin Laden through the Tora Bora Mountains in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Waugh led a team of investigators into the Vietnamese jungle and was able to take DNA from Ngoc.

After Waugh’s visit, Ngoc’s name became synonymous with conmen impersonating US army veterans that are missing in action. There is still a huge amount of anger among legitimate Vietnam veterans at the deception.

The Unclaimed documentary came about after Vietnam veteran Tom Faunce heard about an “army brother” who’d been shot down 40-years earlier, listed as deceased in action and “forgotten about by the US government”.

Determined to make good on his army vow never to leave a man behind, Faunce teamed up with Jorgenson to track the mystery man down and find definitive evidence that either proved he was Sgt Robertson, or outed him as a fraud.

Jorgenson says he was sceptical about the project from the off, not least because of Faunce’s stated intention to reunite a man who had been missing and presumed dead for 44 years with his now fully recuperated family.

They agreed that one intention of the film would be to try and get the man they believed was claiming to be Sgt Robertson to admit he’d been making the whole thing up.

“The MIA story was pretty unbelievable, pretty grandiose”, Jorgenson told the Globe and Mail, adding “Tom went to meet him and was very sceptical, grilling this guy up and down, trying to get him to break”.

But as the man told the pair his story via a translator; how he’d been captured by the North Vietnamese shortly after his helicopter was shot down, and how he’d been held in a bamboo cage and tortured for around a year, the two men became convinced he was Sgt Robertson.

That confidence would now appear to have been misplaced.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor