MIA Vietnam Soldier Turns Up 40 Years Later—Sort Of
People really wanted to believe Dang Tan Ngoc was John Robertson, and so they did
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 1, 2017 1:34 PM CST
Updated Feb 5, 2017 7:10 AM CST
A wild story.   (Getty Images/NorthStar203)

(Newser) – The year was 1968, and John Hartley Robertson, a 36-year-old US Green Beret who worked in a top-secret unit, was in a chopper over the jungles of Laos when a Vietcong rocket shot into the sky and straight into the helicopter, which plummeted and exploded in a valley. Robertson's body was never recovered and he was presumed dead, as Matthew Shaer explains in a deep dive for Atavist, but his story was far from over. In 2008, 40 years after Robertson's disappearance, a Christian missionary named Tom Faunce started hearing rumors of a man from South Vietnam by the name of Dang Tan Ngoc—a man who claimed he was Robertson, despite a declaration by a 1993 Senate committee that there was "no compelling evidence" any MIA Americans could still be alive in Southeast Asia.

Faunce met with the man claiming to be Robertson, as did a recruit who'd trained under him, Robertson's sister, and documentary filmmakers who put together a movie about him—and they all insisted it was him, despite muddled forensic evidence and the fact he couldn't speak English (supposedly due to his trauma). Then, a shocker: "Robertson" was exposed by POW investigators as a fraud. When Shaer went to Vietnam to talk to locals, he found out Ngoc was a Vietnamese native raised in Saigon and, in a bizarre twist, he'd acted in a film in the part of an American pilot who was shot down. He'd latched onto the details from that role to formulate a fictitious life—"the type of fiction that … [allowed people] to locate in it a piece of themselves," Shaer writes. Atavist's fascinating read here, including how Faunce refused to believe the evidence against "Robertson." (A Hong Kong tycoon has vanished.)

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