A battered diary retrieved from the body of a Vietnamese soldier by a US 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 Ngai 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," said the fallen soldier's eldest son, Vu Dinh Son, fighting back tears as he accepted the mementos.
The small hand-written diary details the daily hardships faced by Doan, a father of four who joined the communist North Vietnamese army in 1965.
"In the morning, having breakfast -- rice and salt. My life is harsh but full of glory. We continue (to fight) after six nights without sleep," he wrote in his small, precise script, the red ink he used faded but still legible.
US Defense 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.
Doan died in a March 1966 battle known as Operation Indiana which also killed 11 US Marines and wounded 55 others, according to the US Department of Defense.
When the fighting died down, Robert Frazure, who served with the 7th Marines, saw the small red diary on Doan's chest. He brought it back with him to the United states, the DOD said in a June press release.
Frazure kept the fragile, crumbling papers for 46 years until recently deciding they should be returned to the family and contacting US media organisation PBS for help.
US officials became aware 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.
"I would never have imagined that this diary would come home," said Vu Ba Con, 66, who served alongside Doan and remembered the battle that killed him.
"We were attacked by around 100 enemy soldiers. Doan was on guard duty... I was very sad when I knew he had been killed -- five friends from our village joined the army and two of us died."
Doan's wife died earlier this year. But before her death she had expressed joy that the mementos would be coming back, their eldest child 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.
A photograph of two young Vietnamese women was also found tucked into the diary. To Thi Yen, now 70, told AFP that she had taken the photo with a friend when she was around 22 and serving in a female militia.
"We would give the men our photograph when they joined the army to encourage them. When I heard a photo of mine was found, I was so happy and surprised -- it still looks great after 40 years," she said.