Parapedia - Robert Borton

Along with 58,000 who lost their lives, the Vietnam Memorial in Washington D.C. also carries the names of hundreds of GIs who are officially unaccounted for. One such name is that of Robert C. Borton Jr., known as "Curt". However, Curt's family believe his name should never have been inscribed on the wall in the first place. For Curt's sister Diane and the rest of his family, they are convinced Curt is alive and living in the United States with a new identity:

"I know my brother Curt's alive. I've seen him on three separate occasions in Washington D.C. And I have not one doubt in my mind that that was my brother and he's very much alive to this day."

When Curt enlisted in the Marines, he was 19-years-old. Eight months later, just nineteen days after arriving in Vietnam, he found himself on night patrol near the city of Da Nang. It was not long after that, that Robert Borton received the visit that every father dreads:

"I didn't know what to think. It really hit me hard. They said he was missing in action, so I had hopes they'd find him right away. And listening to the news all the time hoping something would come up where they'd found him. But they never did. It never happened."

Two years passed with not a single word about Curt's fate. Still, the Bortons prayed for a miracle. And according to Wanda Borton, Curt's stepmother, in September of 1968, one was delivered:

"We subscribe to a Marine magazine and I was just going through it. And all of a sudden I see this picture and it just jumped at me like there's our son. I wasn't expecting to see a picture of him. But it was him."

The photograph had been taken a full year after Curt was reported missing. Wanda Borton was convinced the soldier was her son:

"We took it down to the Marine Casualty Office. And then we got a letter back saying that it couldn't be him because this didn't match and that, in other words, they claimed it was not our son."

Then a few years later, the Bortons came across what they believe was additional evidence. It was a frame from a 16mm film shot in a Viet Cong prison camp in 1968. According to Robert Borton, the prisoner looked quite familiar:

"As soon as I saw it, I said there's my boy again right there."

However, Major Dave Greco, a spokesperson for the Marine Corps, believed the Bortons were mistaken:

"Each of the service members in that photograph has been positively identified. We've spoken to each one of them. And none of them is Robert Borton."

If it had ended with the two photographs, Curt's family might have dropped the entire matter. But, the Bortons say there is much more. According to Robert, in the summer of 1976, he was approached by two strangers who claimed to be agents with the Department of Defense:

"They want to know if for my son's own personal safety if I'd declare him dead. I said no I won't do that. They told me I'd get a large sum of money. And I said I'm not concerned about the money. They got in the car and left and they said do not tell nobody about it."

But for Major Greco, this proved to be an unlikely scenario:

"We don't work that way. We do things in a very professional manner. We would not approach someone to elicit them to change their son's status in the public parking lot of a shopping mall."

Robert claimed that the two men pursued him aggressively over a period of weeks, always confronting him in a public place. Robert is functionally illiterate, and eventually, he signed their document, without knowing what it said:

"And so I agreed to declare him dead for his own safety. When they told me for his own safety, well then I knew he was alive."

In the end, Robert received a check for $43,000. The men swore him to secrecy, but he eventually confessed to his family. The Bortons then decided to go to Washington D.C. to further investigate Curt's case. On several occasions, they were allowed to examine Curt's official files. According to Diane, the entries regarding Curt's death kept changing:

"They had him killed in March or April of 1966. In 1967, they have a story of him being with an engineer crew and being killed. They had him killed on paper several times."

But according to Major Greco, there was a specific reason for the confusion:

"I think a lot of what the families read may be the report of a witness. These people, Vietnam villagers, are remembering things that happened to them 25 years ago. So there are often errors in years. There are often errors in months. Many times they only understand things from the cycles of planting and harvesting crops."

The Bortons continued to dig for evidence that Curt was still alive. In the process, the family believed that someone was becoming increasingly curious about them. Diane and other family members became convinced that their phones were tapped. One of Diane's cousins is certain that the entire family was being watched. He asked that his identity not be revealed:

"Every morning there would be a car pull out of the office parking lot and they would follow me in to work. And then I'd find them behind me again on my way home. After that, for about a month and a half, two months, I wasn't followed anymore. And then we started noticing them again."

As part of his job in a security company, Diane's cousin often ran routine credit checks. At Diane's request, he entered Curt's social security number in the system and made an unsettling discovery:

"I entered it into the computer and it came back invalid entry. That number has never been issued. That same day, I had left work and was headed home and I was approached by someone. They very pleasantly called me by my name."

The man was armed and accosted Diane's cousin at gunpoint. He told the cousin to forget everything he saw and threatened to harm his family if he refused. The man left soon after. According to Diane's cousin, he was threatened because he had stumbled upon evidence that Curt might still be alive:

"It would seem to fit together that maybe he was used for covert operations. And in order to keep him from talking about these covert operations, he was given a new identity and instructions not to contact anyone from his past."

It was shaping up as a scenario right out of a Tom Clancy novel. But the most mysterious events were yet to come. In 1990, a full 24 years after Curt Borton supposedly died in Vietnam, Diane moved to a suburb of Washington D.C. It was there that Diane believed she had a chance encounter with her brother at a gas station:

"I was stunned. It was my brother and I couldn't, I didn't even have time to react..."

The next April, Diane claimed she saw Curt again:

"We were heading down 395. And a red car pulled up beside us. I looked over and it was my brother. It was the same red car I'd seen at the gas station. He looked at me and he grinned and shot in front of us and like slowed down a little bit. And then I wrote down the license number. And then he sped up and zipped over in the other lane and zipped off the exit which was at Quantico Marine Station."

Diane traced the license plate number to a man who lived in Virginia, but he claimed to know nothing about Curt. A few months later, in July of 1991, Diane said that Curt made another mysterious appearance. By this time, Diane said that at least one of Curt's war buddies had confirmed that Curt was alive, but that he had come home a disturbed and dangerous man. When Diane saw her brother again, she did not approach him:

"I had been told that he was potentially dangerous. I had my two children with me and I just couldn't take that chance that he could possibly be dangerous and harm my children. I know now that was a mistake. If I had it all to do over again, I would've turned around, I would've faced him, I would've talked to him, I would've threw my arms around him and hugged him. But I was afraid."

Today, the Borton family believes that Curt is or was part of a secret government operation. Diane, in particular, believes that her brother has attempted to contact the family, in order to let them know that he is alive without endangering himself by exposing his new identity:

"I talked to a man who claims to be a secret returnee. He said they were allowed to come back as long as they didn't contact their families or let anybody know they're back. The official status was there were no more live POWs in Southeast Asia. And they couldn't bring back live POWs when they've already taken the stand that all the POWs are home or dead."

What happened to Curt Borton? Despite the official record, his family remains convinced that he is very much alive, and that one day, he will come home.