Michael S. Harper
Specialist 4th Class
U. S. Army
Dates of Service: 03/03/1971 - 12/04/1972
Machine Gunner, 23rd Infantry Division
Audio Samples

A long-time resident of Minden, Louisiana, Michael was born in Shreveport to Judson Harper and Betty Beazley Harper. The son, who owns a car dealership, came by his skills naturally. Judson remained in the automobile business in both used and new cars most of his life. Michael grew up working on his dad's used car lot on Texas Avenue in the 1960s. He also worked at an Oldsmobile and Cadillac dealership where his dad was a minority owner. The elder Harper later bought a dealership in Minden. Michael went on to partner with a GM dealer in Many, then became sole owner of that dealership. "It's just in our family" he remarks of the business. In his spare time Michael hunted doves and quail, squirrels, rabbits and ducks. He attended a high school called Jesuit (now Loyola College Prep) where he graduated in 1969. Michael was in college at the University of South Louisiana when his number on the second draft lottery turned up an unlucky 13. Knowing he was bound for service, he eventually took his physical, withdrew from school, and enlisted on 3 March 1971 in Shreveport. In basic training at Fort Polk, Louisiana, the weight melted from him. He lost from 230 to 180 pounds in six weeks. After basic he was sent to Leadership Preparation Course at Fort Polk, attaining an "acting" E5 rank. After advanced individual training in infantry ended he was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, then to the Republic of South Vietnam in August of 1971. In Da Nanag he was assigned to Alpha Company 1st Battalion, 46th Infantry, and assigned as assistant gunner to Tom Novak of Buffalo, New York, the M60 machine gunner. The 1/46 operated west of Da Nang and nearly halfway to Laos, in the A Shau Valley. "It reminded me of northern Arkansas," he recalls of the 3,000- to 4,000-foot mountains. At night on the mountaintops, "it got cool at night. Particularly during the monsoons it'd get almost cold," he says. The men slept in hammocks and on cool nights wore jungle shirts (similar to a sweatshirt) and lay under a poncho liner. The mountainside surface was slippery. "You'd crawl 20 feet and you'd slip back 30," he says. The 1/46 searched for NVA positions, mainly trying to seek and destroy those who were firing rockets into Da Nang Air Base. Usually the company stayed out in the field 21 days. One major health issue was cellulitis, a skin infection resulting in huge, painful boils. He admired the medics who were "very, very dedicated people. Most of them that we had were conscientious objectors. Didn't carry a gun. But they did an admirable job I think," he recalls. He stayed in touch with his family by mail, with letters taking about 10 days to reach him. Once, on a three-day leave in Saigon he called home collect. "It was like sixty dollars for about five minutes," he says. One special delight he always anticipated were bags of tortilla chips and hot sauce from his mother sent him. In April of 1972 the 1/46 was sent north to blunt the NVA Easter Offensive. B52s pounded the North Vietnamese about "six or eight miles" away from his position. He never went on R&R. As the war was winding down, no R&R passes were issued because of manpower shortage. He did receive a three-day, in-country R&R in Saigon for helping find a cache of rockets. He also had a ticket for a Bob Hope Show, but caught a cold and gave away his ticket. He feels he was in Vietnam at a fortunate time when the war was winding down and the "Vietnamization" program was handing most of the fighting to the South Vietnamese. "Frankly I think the NVA that we encountered would go out of their way to avoid us and I'm not so sure we wouldn't do the same. Everybody was just kind of sick of it," he remarks of the war. Michael returned to the States, landing in San Francisco, where he did not experience any hostility because he was a soldier. "I never sensed any hostility, but I never sensed that they acknowledged you or anything," he remarks. He reached home in a hurry. "I spent like a Wednesday night somewhere west of Da Nang and probably spent Saturday night in Shreveport," he recalls. He was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky and placed in 12th Finance Division to serve the rest of his military obligation. He got an "early out" because he was returning to school. On 4 December 1973 he left the army and in January entered LSU-Shreveport. A business major, he graduated in 1976. He went to work at Rountree Olds Cadillac in Shreveport from 1976 to 1983 when his dad acquired the dealership in Minden. He married Whitney Quinn of Shreveport on 19 May 1979. They would have two children, Marshall and Kathryn.