Monday, June 04, 2012

Vietnam: Writings of a US Soldier Before He was Killed

Servicemember's letters from Vietnam to be returned to family
The personal letters of US Army Sergeant Steve Flaherty, who was killed in action in 1969, rest on a tabel at the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) in Hanoi on June 4, 2012. US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Hanoi on June 3 after visiting the former port at Cam Ranh Bay used by US forces in the Vietnam War in a highly symbolic trip that reflects Washington's efforts to deepen ties with its former enemy as it seeks to counter China's growing power.

4 June 2012 - HANOI, Vietnam — On the day he died more than 40 years ago, Army Sgt. Steve Flaherty carried with him a stack of letters he’d written but not yet sent to loved ones back home.

In one, addressed to his mother, he grimly detailed the brutal battle he was fighting just before his death.

“We couldn’t retrieve the bodies of our men or ruck sacks and when we brought air strikes, jets dropped napalm and explosives that destroyed everything that was there,” he wrote.

After he was killed on March 25, 1969, the letters were taken from him and used as propaganda by Vietnamese forces during the war. Now, Flaherty’s family will finally receive his last written words.

Vietnamese Minister of National Defense Gen. Phung Quang Thanh gave the letters — along with two other sets of letters that may have belonged to other American servicemembers — to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday. In return, Panetta presented the diary of a Vietnamese soldier, which had been taken after a firefight in March 1966 by an American Marine.

The historic exchange of documents at the Vietnamese Ministry of National Defense underscores how the relationship between the two countries has progressed in the 17 years since the normalization of diplomatic relations, said George Little, acting assistant secretary of defense for public affairs.

“It is a reflection of the priority the United States places on people-to-people ties with Vietnam,” Little said. read more>>>

Excerpts from Army sergeant's Vietnam letters
The following are excerpts, provided by the Defense Department, come from the letters taken from Army Sgt. Steve Flaherty, of Columbia, S.C., when he was killed in Vietnam on March 25, 1969.

Letter to “Betty”

“I’m sorry for not writing so long but we have been in a fierce fight with N.V.A. We took in lots of casualties and death. It has been trying days for me and my men. We dragged more bodies of dead and wounded than I can ever want to forget.”

“Thank you for your sweet card. It made my miserable day a much better one but I don’t think I will ever forget the bloody fight we are having.”

“RPG rockets and machine guns really tore my rucksack.”

“I felt bullets going past me. I have never been so scared in my life. Well I better close for now before we go in again to take that hill.”

Letter to “Mother”

“We couldn’t retrieve the bodies of our men or ruck sacks and when we brought air strikes, jets dropped napalm and explosives that destroyed everything that was there.”

“I definitely will take R&R, I don’t care where so long as I get a rest, which I need so badly, soon. I’ll let you know exact date.”

“If Dad calls, tell him I got too close to being dead but I’m O.K. I was real lucky. I’ll write again soon.”

Letter to “Mom”

Statement from George Little on the Exchange of Artifacts Taken During the Vietnam War
June 04, 2012 - Background Information on the Artifacts

Sergeant Flaherty Letters

In March 1969, U.S. Army Sergeant Steve Flaherty of Columbia, South Carolina was killed in action in northern South Vietnam while assigned to the 101st Airborne Division. Vietnamese forces took Flaherty’s letters and used excerpts for propaganda broadcasts during the war. At that time, Vietnamese Senior Colonel Nguyen Phu Dat retained the letters and following the war, contemplated how to return them to Flaherty’s family. Decades later, Phu Dat referenced the letters in an August 2011 Vietnamese online publication about documents kept from the war years.

In early 2012, Robert Destatte, a retired Department of Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office employee, found the online publication referencing the letters and brought the issue to the attention of the Department of Defense. The Department of State and the Department of Defense began work with the Vietnam Office for Seeking Missing Persons (VNOSMP) to assist in returning the letters to the Flaherty family.

Now that Secretary Panetta has received the letters from the Vietnamese government, the Office of the Secretary of Defense will work with the United States Army Casualty office to present the letters to the surviving family.

Vu Ðình Ðoàn Diary

In March 1966, 1st platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, was engaged in a firefight near Quang Ngai during Operation Indiana. Following the battle, Robert “Ira” Frazure of Walla Walla Washington saw a small red diary on the chest of Vu Ðình Ðoàn, a Vietnamese soldier who was found killed in a machine gun pit. Frazure took the diary and brought it back to the United States. In November 1966, Frazure was discharged from the Marine Corps following three years of service.

Also in March 1966, a friend of Frazure, Gary E. Scooter was killed in action during Operation Utah. Decades later, Frazure was introduced to Scooter’s sister Marge who was conducting research for a book about Scooter’s life and service in the Marine Corps. Frazure asked Marge for her help to return the diary to the family of Vu Ðình Ðoàn. In February 2012, Marge Scooter brought the diary to the PBS television program History Detectives to research and find the Vu Ðình Ðoàn family. Last month, after finding the family, History Detectives asked the Department of State and the Department of Defense to help return the diary to the Vietnamese government so it can be returned to the Vu Ðình Ðoàn family.

No comments: