Vietnam, US exchange dead servicemen's letters, diary

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  US Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta accepts a dead American soldier's letters from Vietnamese Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh in Hanoi Monday

Vietnamese Minister of Defense Phung Quang Thanh and his US counterpart Leon Panetta Monday exchanged a diary and letters obtained from the bodies of a Vietnamese and an American killed during the Vietnam War.

The diary belonged to Vu Dinh Doan and the letters to Army Sergeant Steve Flaherty, and they express the soldiers' thoughts, feelings, and experiences of the war, according to a report on the US Defense Department website.

Flaherty was killed while serving with an airborne division in 1969, at age 22, and was carrying the letters he was writing home.

Some of the letters are hand-written, some are typed, and one looks like there is blood on it.

Senior Colonel Nguyen Phu Dat saved the letters and thought about returning them to Flaherty's family after the war but was unable to find a way.

In 2011 he referred to the letters in a Vietnamese online publication that Robert Destatte, a retired US Defense Department employee, found and the latter informed the department.

Earlier this year US authorities contacted Vietnam's Office for Seeking Missing Persons and sought its assistance in returning the letters to the Flaherty family.

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The diary was found on the chest of Vu Dinh Doan, killed in a machine gun trench in Quang Ngai in north-central Vietnam in March 1966, by Robert Frazure, a US soldier. He took the diary back with him to the US.

Through a friend, Frazure asked PBS television's History Detectives program to try to locate Doan's family. The program managed to do so, and asked US authorities to help return it.

Flaherty's letters show the brutal nature of the war.

In one letter he writes: "Jets dropped napalm and explosives that destroyed everything that was there.

"This is a dirty and cruel war," he also writes.

Panetta arrived in Vietnam on May 3 for a two-day visit, becoming the most senior US defense official to visit Cam Ranh Port in central Vietnam since the Vietnam War. The port had served as a US air and naval base.

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