“Today in Hanoi, in the first-of-its-kind joint exchange between American and Vietnamese defense ministers, Secretary Panetta and Vietnamese Minister of Defense Phuong Quang Thanh returned artifacts taken by service members from both nations during the Vietnam War.
“Secretary Panetta presented the Vu Ðình Ðoàn diary, which was taken by Robert Frazure, United States Marine Corps following Operation Indiana in 1966. In turn, Minister Quang Thanh presented personal letters of U.S. Army Sergeant Steve Flaherty, who was killed in action in 1969.
“Both leaders agreed to return these important artifacts to the relatives of the deceased soldiers.
“This historic exchange of between defense leaders demonstrates the progress and partnership our two nations have made in the 17 years since the normalization of the relationship between the United States and Vietnam. It is a reflection of the priority the United States places on people-to-people ties with Vietnam.
“During their bi-lateral meeting, Secretary Panetta thanked Minister Quang Thanh for the government of Vietnam’s support of the Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) mission in Vietnam.
“Minister Quang Thanh told Secretary Panetta that the government of Vietnam has decided to open three previously restricted sites for future excavation. The Department of Defense believes these sites are critical to locating missing-in-action troops from the Vietnam War and that JPAC research teams will strongly benefit from access to these sites. The Department of Defense remains strongly committed to bringing home every fallen service member from this and other wars.”
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.