Obituary : Deborah Robertson Bardsley, Figure in MIA Controversy, Dies

Deborah Robertson Bardsley, a Santa Ana activist in the controversy over American military personnel missing in action in the Vietnam War, died Jan. 4 of pneumonia resulting from influenza. She was 41.

Bardsley spent much of her adult life in an unsuccessful attempt to uncover the fate of her father, Air Force fighter pilot John L. Robertson, after his plane was shot down over Vietnam in 1966. In 1990, she received a photograph purportedly showing Robertson and two other U.S. fliers in captivity in Vietnam.

The photo touched off headlines and unleashed a war of words between the Pentagon, which branded it a phony, and the Robertson family, which believed it to be genuine. Bardsley traveled to Vietnam and talked her way into the notorious Son Tay Prison near Hanoi, where fliers were imprisoned, and visited the site where her father’s plane crashed.


Bardsley bitterly opposed the move by the United State last year to reestablish formal diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Bardsley and other activists said relations should not be normalized until Vietnam disclosed the fates of missing soldiers.

“There’s so much that Vietnam has in the way of military photographs and reports that I feel we have a right to have this information before any normalization,” Bardsley said in an interview last summer.

Despite the decision to open relations with Vietnam, Bardsley vowed to carry on her quest.

“I will never give up,” she said during the same interview. “My father is part of my life. The only thing is to deal with the fact that I will never get to know what happened to him.”