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Lonnie Long and Gary Blackburn Present: Unlikely Warriors

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This Veterans Day, we hope you'll take a moment to honor our nation's heroes. The Town of Davidson hosts an annual ceremony, which will begin at 11 a.m. this year at the Town Hall, and Main Street Books will follow the ceremony with a presentation at the store from Lonnie Long and Gary Blackburn, veterans and authors of Unlikely Warriors: The Army Security Agency's Secret War in Vietnam

About the book: In early May 1961, a U.S. military aircraft taxied toward a well-guarded terminal building. The plane slowed to a halt; steps were maneuvered up to its side, and the door was pulled open. The tropical night air was heavy and dank, and the moon shone dimly through high thin clouds. On board the aircraft were ninety-two members of a specially selected team. The men were dressed in indistinguishable dark suits with white shirts and dark ties, and each man carried a new U.S. diplomatic passport inside his breast pocket. The men held copies of their orders and records in identical brown Manila envelopes, and each man’s medical records were stamped “If injured or killed in combat, report as training accident in the Philippines.”

In such clandestine fashion, the first fully operational U.S. military unit arrived at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam. The unit was so highly classified even its name was top-secret. It was given a codename, a cover identity to hide the true nature of its mission. The unit’s operation was housed in a heavily-guarded compound near Saigon, and within two days of its arrival, Phase I was implemented. Its operatives were intercepting Viet Cong manual Morse communications, analyzing it for the intelligence it contained and passing the information to the U.S. Military Assistance Advisory Group-Vietnam. The Army Security Agency (ASA) was on duty.

As the ASA unit activated new phases of its operation, it became necessary for its soldiers to venture into the field in pursuit of more and better intelligence. It was inevitable that some would travel in harm’s way. Just before Christmas 1961, an ASA soldier became the first U.S. combat death in the Vietnam War.

With the introduction of major American ground forces in 1965, ASA’s operation expanded to three battalions and company-size direct support units assigned to all U.S. Army divisions. The DSUs included teams of Morse and Viet-voice interceptors and analysts working out of underground bunkers, modified APCs, jeeps, and sandbagged tents. Soldiers of the Army Security Agency were involved in nearly every major combat campaign of the war. Those unlikely warriors suffered numerous casualties as a result; however, the intelligence they provided saved thousands of lives.

At the height of the conflict, there were over 6,000 ASA personnel in Vietnam, but little has been told about their secret war, until now.

Earlier Event: November 4
Story Time with Amelia Wyatt