Vietnam War Letters From Slain Soldier Returned to US

Letters from a South Carolina soldier killed in the Vietnam War have been returned to his family in exchange for a diary belonging to a Vietnamese soldier previously held by the U.S.

Army Sgt. Steve Flaherty, who was killed in 1969 during the Vietnam War, wrote the letters 40 years ago, but his personalized letters to friends and family will finally make it to the United States after they were given to U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday during a landmark meeting in Vietnam.

The letters from the U.S. soldier had been used by the Vietnamese in propaganda broadcasts during the war, but were exchanged with the defense secretary for a diary belonging to a Vietnamese soldier long held by the U.S.

"I felt bullets going past me," one of the letters addressed to an unknown woman named Betty reads. "I have never been so scared in my life."

"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," he later added.

In another letter written to his mother Louis, Flaherty, who died at the age of 22 in South Vietnam, addressed the calamity of war.

"Our platoon started off with 35 men but winded up with 19 men when it was over. We lost platoon leader and the whole squad," Flaherty wrote. "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."

"If Dad calls, tell him I got close to being dead but I'm O.K. I was real lucky. I'll write again soon," he added.

Flaherty's mother passed away in 2002 and his father is also deceased. His older brother Ronald died in 2009 at the age of 76, but the letters will still be cherished among the remaining members of the veteran's family, according to Flaherty's uncle Kenneth Cannon.

"Nobody has ever forgotten Steve," Cannon told "They'll (the letters) go into frames and they'll be cherished."

"It's a treasure, it's remembrance," the 80-year-old from Prosperity, S.C., shared.