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HANOI, Vietnam – The Vietnamese government has announced it will open three previously restricted sites for excavation by the U.S. to search for troop remains from the war.

The announcement from Vietnam Minister of Defense Phung Quang Thanh comes as U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and his Vietnamese counterpart participated in a first-of-its-kind joint exchange of artifacts from the war in Hanoi.

A Department of Defense spokesman said in a statement the department believes Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command (JPAC) research teams will greatly benefit from access to the new sites in their search for the approximately 1,200 U.S. service members still missing in Vietnam.

"The Department of Defense believes these sites are critical to locating missing-in-action troops from the Vietnam War," spokesman George Little said.

In the artifact exchange, Panetta gave his Vietnamese counterpart the Vũ Đ́nh Đoàn diary, which was taken by Robert Frazure, United States Marine Corps, following Operation Indiana in 1966.

In turn, Quang Thanh presented personal letters of U.S. Army Sgt. Steve Flaherty, who was killed in action in 1969.
Excerpts from the letters of Sgt. Flaherty at link.