HANOI, Vietnam – Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Vietnam Defense Minister Phung Quang Thanh exchanged long-held artifacts Monday collected during the Vietnam war — including letters written by a U.S. soldier who was killed. Instead, the letters written by Army Sgt. Steve Flaherty of Columbia, S.C., were used by the North Vietnamese for propaganda. Here are some excerpts of Flaherty's letters:
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"
"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."
"Our platoon started off with 35 men but winded up with 19 men when it was over. We lost platoon leader and whole squad."
"The NVA soldiers fought until they died and one even booby trapped himself and when we approached him, he blew himself up and took two of our men with him."
Letter to "Mrs. Wyatt"
"Our platoon leader was killed and I was the temporary platoon leader until we got the replacement. Nothing seems to go well for us but we'll take that ridge line."
"This is a dirty and cruel war but I'm sure people will understand the purpose of this war even though many of us might not agree."