DAVIDSON – Lonnie Long and Gary Blackburn wrote the war story that hasn’t been told and many thought never would.
Filled with what was previously classified information, Long and Blackburn detail the groups in charge of intercepting and decoding enemy information in the book “Unlikely Warriors: The Army Security Agency’s Secret War in Vietnam 1961-1973.”
Since its release just over a year ago, Long and Blackburn’s book has gained international notoriety, being included in The National Cryptologic Symposium, the J.F. Kennedy Special Warfare Museum, Army Security Agency reunions, the International Spy Museum and the War Memorial Museum in Australia.
It was also nominated for the Henry and Anne Paolucci Book Award.
The Army Security Agency was founded in the 1950s and went under the leadership of the National Security Agency along with the Air Force Security Service and the Navy Security Group as electronic intelligence gatherers.
The goal was to intercept communications and decode Morse Code to get information regarding defense networks, radar defenses and battle plans. Too much communication could mean an impending attack, as could too much silence. Similar to how cell phone towers can pinpoint GPS locations, members of the agency used airplanes to triangulate signals to intercept messages and locate the enemy.
After signing the paper to not disclose his experience with the Army Security Agency on Nov. 7, 1967, Long resumed civilian life, going back to college, starting a family and working as district manager for Morgan Stanley before moving to Davidson.
He'd always had a love of history and had known he was part of something big when he enlisted in the Army at age 19 and was asked to join the exclusive group.
Having previously not read any Vietnam War-related books, Long happened to pick one up one day written by a war reporter.
Not only was he surprised one of their missions had been allowed to be published, he noted factual errors. Realizing the classified information was being released, Long began a nearly 15-year quest to research the agency’s initiatives during the Vietnam War through the Internet, archives, Freedom of Information Act requests and veteran interviews.
Three and a half years ago, Long presented the notebooks and folders of his data to fellow veteran Blackburn to compose the book.
“Unlikely Warriors” came out Memorial Day 2013, having been published through the self-publishing company iUniverse.
Long kept himself predominately out of the book except in the introduction, wanting to offer a factual account instead of personal perspectives. It was geared to be a historic record rather than a political statement about the controversial war.
“It’s a chronological account of the initial unit and then the expansion of the war to the contraction of the war in 1973 told through stories and events that occurred with the Army Security Agency units throughout that time,” he said. “Included in the book for context are the political situations, Civil Rights movements going on, race riots going on and even some of the music of the time."
While the book will resonate with Army Security Agency veterans, it has also gained popularity with all veterans and those interested in history.
Long said it tells a story that 98 percent of people who served didn’t know about because it was so highly classified. This book, he said, is the first time the topic has been explored.