HAI DUONG, Vietnam - A battered diary retrieved from the body of a Vietnamese soldier by an American serviceman in 1966 was returned to the author's family Friday in an emotional ceremony.
The diary, an identity card, old bank notes and a small photograph, were discovered by the American soldier who found the body of Vu Dinh Doan slumped in a machine-gun pit after a battle in central Quang Nai province.
"I never knew my father but I have always dreamed of him - and now I have a chance to know more, to understand more about him," the fallen soldier's eldest son Vu Dinh Son said, fighting back tears as he accepted the mementos.
US defence secretary Leon Panetta returned the belongings to Hanoi earlier this year in an exchange of war-time belongings with the Vietnamese - a symbol of healing of wounds caused by the bloody conflict, which ended in 1975.
As incense burned in front of a photo of Doan, who was 31 when he was killed in action, an army official handed the small maroon diary and other papers to his son, who was a toddler when his father left for war.
"The return of the diary and papers is a noble thing. I believe there will be a message inside from my father, something he wanted to tell us," Son added, as his sister wept loudly over the diary and a small photograph found inside.
The US soldier kept the fragile, crumbling papers for 46 years until recently deciding they should be returned to the family and contacting an American media organisation for help.
US officials became aware of the existence of the papers, and during a visit in June this year, Panetta and his Vietnamese counterpart Phung Quang Thanh exchanged artifacts, including Doan's diary.
The Vietnamese handed over a collection of letters from US army servicemen, included correspondence from Sergeant Steve Flaherty, whose letters home fed wartime propaganda broadcasts.
US officials hailed the exchange as the first of its kind.
"The return of these mementos has both a political and a human meaning," said Colonel Nguyen Xuan Nang on Friday as he handed over Doan's diary to his family, carefully laid out on a red silk pillow.
"He was a true patriot who fought for his country," he said.
Doan's wife died earlier this year, but before her death had expressed joy that the mementos would be coming back, Son said at the ceremony.
"What (the American soldier) did has proved that he is a man of good morals - what he has done, although late, has made us feel very happy," he said.