Almost four decades since the Vietnam War ended with the capitulation of Saigon, the issue of troops missing in action (MIAs) and the possibility that some American and allied soldiers remained behind as communist captives still evokes passionate debate.
Many loved ones understandably hold to the hope that just maybe theirs could still be alive. The authors of An Enormous Crime went to great lengths to explain how successive U.S. governments and corrupt Vietnamese officials failed miserably to address the vexing and complicated issue.
Perhaps U.S. soldiers remained after former U.S. President Richard Nixon failed to make good on a secret pledge to provide Hanoi with more than U.S. $3.3 billion in war reparations. Estimates of the numbers of MIAs left behind have ranged from one to 800.
Others are adamant that no Americans were left after Washington made its formal withdrawal from South Vietnam in 1973, with Operation Homecoming resulting in the release of all living prisoners of war (POWs).
The truth may never be known, despite an abundance of genuine experts whose analysis tends to complicate rather than clarify one of the greatest heartbreaks of the Vietnam War. It’s a point that was highlighted three years ago with the haphazard search for the combat photographer Sean Flynn.
Then, along comes Michael Jorgenson, a Canadian documentary filmmaker who has produced Unclaimed. In the film he declares that he has found MIA Sergeant John Robertson, who disappeared after being shot down in Laos during a special ops mission in 1968. Veterans, however, are furious with the film, which in all fairness beggars belief.
According to Jorgenson’s assessment, Robertson forgot he had children, forgot the English language and even lost track of his birthday after spending years in a tiny Vietnamese village. His children do not believe the man is their father although his sister Jean Robertson-Holly says she can confirm he is indeed her brother.
Finally silencing all debate and bringing the case into the 21st century, a DNA test was conducted at last. According to Jessica Pierno, a spokesperson for the Defense Department’s Missing Personnel Office, “Through fingerprint and DNA the government has reached the conclusion that this gentleman is not John Hartley Robertson.”
Given the results, plans to release the film on May 12 should be withdrawn.