Like a lot of retirees, Mike Harper likes to fish and golf. But the Army veteran also sets aside lots of time to help fellow vets.
He greets people as they come in to Overton Brooks V-A Medical Center in Shreveport. He helps find them find where they're going in that massive complex. Our he gives a push to veterans in need of a wheelchair.
"I enjoy helping them. It gives me a lot of satisfaction," Harper says. "And it gives me something to look forward to doing every day."
There are 300 volunteers at the VA hospital. But only one could be Volunteer of the Year -- Mike.
"He's someone that we strive to find -- more Mike Harpers in the world," Larry Moore, Chief of Voluntary Services, says. "Mike Harper comes in early, stays late. He does whatever he has to do for our veterans. Even their family members, as well."
Mike says he's there for veterans, because he remembers how it felt not being appreciated.
"Nobody had ticker tape parades for us," the Vietnam War veteran said, adding that he was greeted by protesters in San Francisco when he came back from his tour in Vietnam in 1972.
He was a machine gunner, cutting his way through jungle to find the enemy while carrying a heavy load, while avoiding booby traps. He'd been drafted while he was in college.
"I wasn't going to go to Canada. And I wasn't going to flee the country," Mike says. "I thought this is what my government thinks this is what I ought to do. So I did my service. And I did my job. And I did it the best I could."
But with his country in an uproar over the divisive war, Mike never talked much about his war duty.
"It was an embrassment back then. You were ridiculed," he says. "It was something I kept to myself. Other than my family and close friends, it was not anything I discussed for 20 years."
Mike talks about it now with fellow veterans he comes across at the VA.
"There's some war stories told. I visit with them if they want to. Some do. Some don't. And that's ok," Mike says. "I hope it helps them. I'm sure it helps me some to engage with somebody that actually exprienced what you experienced. I enjoy serving them. I like being around them."
Mike finished college at LSUS after the war and went into the car business in Minden, like his dad. And Mike passed that on to his son.
By they way, they're always looking for more volunteers at Overton Brooks. If that's something you'd like to do, call 318-990-5048. Or just go by. Maybe you'll come across Mike, and he can show you where to apply.