Originally posted May 14, 2013
Vietnam. A beautiful land of intemperate climate (at least for someone from Pennsylvania), an ancient culture with French influence, American influence, Communist rule, capitalist economy, with a history of pain and hope. I was lucky enough to travel to Vietnam in 2001 with my dad (a veteran of the war) shortly after his retirement from private medical practice. Dad served for a year as a surgeon and obstetrician, where one moment he was patching up the terribly injured and another moment bringing life into the world. A contrast which I cannot imagine, but he experienced for a year in the country before I was born and when my sister was an infant. He is currently very involved with Vietnam Veterans of America. I am proud of him.
I bring this up because friend of the Skeptical Review, Karl Mamer, has authored a piece on the claims of an alleged Green Beret declared MIA in Vietnam, John Hartley Robertson. Robertson claims he was a survivor of a downed helicopter over Laos in 1968, and he was presumed killed for decades until discovered by a missionary, Tom Faunce. The story of Faunce and the alleged Robertson came the media's and Karl's attention due to a documentary covering the story of Robertson's return to America and his story on attempting to prove his identity in the film Unclaimed.
On its face, this movie is portrayed as a wonderfully heartwarming tale. A lost soldier, husband, brother, and citizen returning home after being halfway around the world for four decades. Except Karl in his unflagging research goes on to splash the cold water of reality and skepticism upon the story. There are some real issues concerning his alleged identity...his story of what occurred to him during his initial period after the helicopter crash, his inability to speak more than pidgin English, the lack of memory of family member names, no matching fingerprints, the lack of matching DNA to his now-deceased brother and sister, and his remaining sister's declining to require DNA testing. Karl methodically goes through the astounding lack of evidence and discusses why most of the evidence establishing Robertson's identity as the downed Green Beret from 1968 is thin at best.
While Karl deals with the identity of Robertson, he also deals with the motivating claims for the film Unclaimed. Karl has admittedly not watched the film. Karl to his credit does deal with this issue in a reasonable manner, but unfortunately leaves himself open to cheap shots from detractors, namely the film critics who bought into the "documentary" lock, stock and barrel.
I must admit a part of me was rooting for the alleged Robertson's story to actually be genuine while reading this piece. Despite the dubious nature of Robertson's claims to being the Green Beret Robertson, I think we would all hope for a returned soldier from the grave so to speak. Unfortunately, Karl makes a very solid case this is not to be.
The first installment of Karl's investigation is being published by Skeptics North. The link to the first installment can be found here. Overall, it is very thorough piece. I do have to say as much as I would have loved for Robertson's story to be real, it is terrible when frauds such as this go on. As I know from my dad, there is a vast brotherhood between veterans, but nothing but loathing distain for faux-veterans. I think the men and women at the local VVA would not hold Robertson in high regard.
- Lady Whitehall co-authored this piece.