It’s been decades since the Vietnam War came to a close, but its legacy has lingered in the minds of Americans for countless reasons. Many mysteries from America’s most infamous campaign have remained unanswered, too, and that was no more apparent than with one Vietnam veteran.

When John Robertson recently heard about the curious fate of a fellow American soldier, he decided he needed to help. So he teamed up with a filmmaker to finally find real answers. But their search only unearthed more questions—and no one could have predicted their surprise when they learned what happened to the POW in question…

John Robertson was born to be a soldier. He grew up during World War II, and at the age of 17, he traded his high school education for enlistment papers. He was eventually promoted to the Green Berets, and his superiors assigned him a unique role during the Vietnam War.

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As part of a CIA-controlled force called the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam–Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG), now-Sergeant Robertson wasn’t permitted dog tags or ID. That was because he and his platoon conducted covert unconventional warfare…

Part of this “unconventional warfare” involved operations in Laos. The nation bordered Vietnam—and American forces were not authorized to be there. In 1968, it was here that enemies shot down Sergeant Robertson and his unit’s helicopter.

The helicopter crashed in a Laotian mountain range, and since American forces weren’t permitted to be there, other units couldn’t conduct a proper search-and-rescue mission. Sergeant Robertson was officially declared MIA—Missing in Action.

Years later, on May 28, 1976, with no sign of Sergeant Robertson, the United States government officially declared him dead; he left behind a wife and two children. Yet, questions about his disappearance lingered…

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Decades later, in the early 2010s, another Vietnam veteran by the name of Tom Faunce strolled passed the Vietnam War Memorial. He felt thankful that his name wasn’t etched on that wall.

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Although Faunce had survived the war, he’d still suffered. He’d lost friends. He’d seen terrible things. Yet, in 2008, he decided to travel back to Southeast Asia. Once there, he stumbled upon something incredible—and it all had to do with Sergeant Robertson.

Myth Merchant Films / YouTube

In his older age, Faunce began focusing on humanitarian efforts, like digging wells in poor villages, and it was that work that brought him and a small company back to the Vietnam region. While there, he heard a curious rumor…

Myth Merchant Films / YouTube

The rumor suggested that North Vietnam didn’t release all American prisoners of war, not even after the fighting ended in 1973. According to this story, Sergeant Robertson also survived the plane crash—and he now lived in the jungles of Vietnam. Could it be true?

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Sticking to the no-man-left-behind mantra, Faunce then embarked on a quest to find out if his comrade-in-arms was alive. To begin, he enlisted Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Michael Jorgensen (pictured at right). Though Jorgensen was skeptical, he agreed to help.

Unclaimed via Daily Mail

If the veteran would “go all the way in helping someone he didn’t even know,” Jorgensen told the Daily Mail, then whether Sergeant Robertson was alive or not didn’t matter. Faunce’s journey would be a good story in itself.

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And so the unlikely duo traveled to Vietnam with cameras in tow. After tracking rumors and speaking with locals, Faunce and Jorgensen were led to a house in the woods. There, they met a man named Dang Tan Ngoc who revealed something shocking…

Ngoc claimed he was the missing soldier, Sergeant John Robertson! He explained he’d been captured by the Vietnamese after the crash, and his captors tortured him for four years, after which he finally escaped.

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According to Ngoc, he then ended up in care of a Vietnamese woman who nursed him back to health and eventually married him. Together, they had two children. To protect his identity, Robertson assumed the identity of “Dang Tan Ngoc.”

The man’s story and character, however, had its fair share of holes: he didn’t speak English, claiming to have forgotten the language after decades without speaking it. Stranger, he’d made no effort to contact his American wife or kids (whose names he couldn’t remember).

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But as Jorgensen told The Toronto Star, Faunce was “very skeptical, grilled this guy up and down trying to get him to break, to say, ‘Oh, no, I’m just making it up.’ And he was adamant he was that guy.”

Fishy story and all, Jorgensen filmed what he’d eventually call Unclaimed, a documentary about the journey to reunite Ngoc with his American sister, Jean Robertson-Holley. Surely, his sister would know if this man was really who he claimed to be.

With all of the pieces in place, the meeting between the alleged Sergeant Robertson and Robertson-Holley was set to occur. When the two finally saw each other, the resulting interaction was incredible…

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“When I held his head in my hands and looked in his eyes,” Robertson-Holley said in Unclaimed, “there was no question that was my brother.” With unconditional love and unwavering faith in his identity, she welcomed her brother back into her life.

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But while the tearful reunion might have been a statement on never giving up hope or a beautiful image of a family reunited, too many questions—like the rest of those generated by the murky war—were left unanswered. That is, until recently…

In 2009, the Defense Prisoner of War Missing Personnel Office stated in a recently exposed memo that Dang Tan Ngoc was a known imposter—a con artist who’d been impersonating Sergeant Robertson since 1982.

Unclaimed via HuffingtonPost

Before filming ever took place, U.S. officials had interviewed this man, and, under pressure, he revealed he was not Sergeant Robertson. In 2008, he was caught impersonating the soldier another time and fingerprinted.

Unclaimed via HuffingtonPost

Those aware of Ngoc’s cons weren’t surprised that people like Faunce believed him. Don Bendell, an award-winning author (and himself a Vietnam War veteran), claimed “[he] is a guy from France, an imposter, who has been used to scam money from well-meaning veterans and others who would love to see any POW rescued.”

Unclaimed via Daily Mail

Additionally, many noted how impossible Dang Tan Ngoc’s story truly was. As Retired Special Forces Captain Robert Noe wrote, “No one forgets to speak their native language after that long.” Yet, one mystery still remained…

Robertson-Holley was so certain the man was her brother that she refused a DNA test. But why? Jorgensen understood. “It’s kind of like, ‘That was an ugly war. It was a long time ago. We just want it to go away,'” he said. Was she simply desperate to believe she never lost her brother in the war?

Eventually, Robertson’s niece, Cyndi Hanna, had a DNA test conducted. And? “We have received the results,” she wrote at the time, “and sadly there was NOT a match. This is very disappointing.”

Unclaimed via DailyMail

“As my mother has said, we only want to do right by my Uncle John,” Hanna said. “And if that means… the man claiming to be my uncle is actually another lost American and doesn’t know who he is, we intend to seek the truth on our own terms.”

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Jorgensen’s filmmaker instincts about Faunce’s determination proved correct. While Sergeant John Robertson’s true fate might remain a mystery, Faunce’s journey to recover a man he’d never met made for an incredible story.

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Despite Sergeant John Robertson’s tragic experience, traveling abroad is usually a positive experience. You have the ability to learn about different cultures, taste foreign foods, and meet people from all walks of life.

Even so, it can still be extremely intimidating, especially with possible language barriers and culture clashes—or worse, as one American family recently found out, innocent tourism can instantly become something like a POW experience.

In 2004, a student at Brigham Young University named David Sneddon decided to travel to China. Having previously completed a mission in South Korea, he was no stranger to Asia. Still, no amount of traveling could have prepared him for what he was about to face.

David’s father, Roy, told The Washington Post that his son wanted to learn Mandarin. “His course work was done, so he said he was going to take a look around some touristy spots in southeast China before he came back.” That’s when everything went haywire.

While hiking through Tiger Leaping Gorge, a scenic trail near the Burmese border, David vanished. Eventually, Chinese officials delivered his family the bleak news.

The Chinese government told Roy and Kathleen Sneddon that their son had tragically fallen to his death. Worse, his body couldn’t be recovered. Yet the Sneddons—who had 10 other children—didn’t buy the story. Something just wasn’t right…

Find David Sneddon / Facebook

“There’s no evidence of that—zero,” Kathleen exclaimed. If it were true, he’d have been the “only American missing in China since World War II whose body has not been found and whose whereabouts remain unknown.”

Fox News via the Sneddon Family

Raising further doubts for the family was the fact that David had hiked all over the world; it just didn’t seem likely that he’d slip and fall on such a highly-trafficked, tourist-friendly trail. So Roy formed a plan to find out the truth…

Find David Sneddon / Facebook

Roy recruited two of his other sons, Michael and James, to head to Yunnan and see if they could find David. When they visited the Leaping Tiger Gorge a month after David’s disappearance, they saw police officers with bloodhounds patrolling the area.

Outside Online

“It was ridiculous,” Michael Sneddon said of the cops. The effort, the family assumed, was all for show. “We just laughed and said thanks.” Though they didn’t find David at the gorge, the family did pick up a valuable piece of information.

Help Find David

A tour guide at the Leaping Tiger Gorge told the family that he’d walked the entire trail with David. In fact, the owner of a hostel at the end of the hike even confirmed David had stayed there!

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The Sneddons kept searching, showing locals pictures of David wherever they went and picking up more clues here and there. A cafe owner in Shangri-La said she’d seen David and could describe him. But then, they reached a dead end.

Help Find David

Roy deferred the investigation to the U.S. State Department. Unfortunately, it believed the Chinese government; as far as the department was concerned, David was dead. But then in 2011—seven years after David disappeared—Kathleen received an interesting phone call…

Bringing David Sneddon Home / Facebook

Nicholas Craft, an attorney and expert on North Korea, noticed that David’s disappearance matched the typical pattern of North Korean government kidnappings. He called Kathleen and relayed this theory to her.

“I just thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard,” Kathleen said. But North Korea expert Melanie Kirkpatrick believed otherwise, saying, “If you know the history of North Korea’s kidnappings of foreign nationals, it’s not so crazy.”

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In fact, when Melanie considered the evidence, abduction made almost too much sense. “We know that North Korean operatives were active in that region [Yunnan] around the same time David was there—with China’s full permission.”

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Melanie also claimed that, in 2013, Japanese politician Keiji Furuya told her, “It is most probable that a U.S. national has been abducted to North Korea.” But the most telling evidence surfaced in 2016…

U.S. Government’s East Asia and Pacific Media Hub / Flickr

That was when a South Korean organization that specialized in North Korean kidnappings claimed informants inside Kim Jung-un’s regime confirmed that David had been kidnapped. Still, the story would become even more wild…

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Other sources inside Japan also claimed David had been kidnapped – and was forced to tutor Kim Jun-un himself in English! That information was corroborated by Choi Sung-yong, the head of Seoul’s Abductees’ Family Union.

Sung-yong continued by stating that David now went by Yoon Bong Soo and had married a woman named Kim Eun Hye. However, that information came with a caveat: he was only about 50 percent sure the information was reliable.

The Washington Post via The Japan Times

Further complicating the issue, some officials in Washington believed that the Japanese government only raised suspicions about kidnapped Americans so the United States would intervene—and help abducted Japanese citizens in the process!

Unfortunately, all of the evidence pointing toward David Sneddon’s kidnapping was circumstantial, and the U.S. State Department said there was “no credible information to substantiate the idea that he has been abducted.”

KSL News

The Sneddon family stuck with what they felt was convincing evidence compiled by in-the-know experts. “My thought initially,” Roy Sneddon said, “is they [North Koreans] mistook him for someone who was trying to move North Koreans out.”

Korean Central News Agency via NY Daily News

The Sneddons didn’t give up their search. Roy and Kathleen turned to Congress for help, and in June 2017, Utah senator Mike Lee and Representative Chris Stewart urged President Donald Trump to find definitive answers.

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In the meantime, the Sneddon family found comfort wherever they could. “If my son has a part in helping North Koreans have a normal life in any way, I would just be thrilled,” Kathleen said.

Stuart Johnson / Deseret News

As of March 2018, David had not been found and no additional information alluded to his whereabouts. The Sneddons’ search continued nonetheless. “As parents and family, we cannot give up,” Kathleen said. “We have to keep looking.”

Bringing David Sneddon Home / Facebook