William T. (Bill) Harper is not a native Texan but, as those native Texans say, he is one who “got here as fast as he could.” In Bill’s case, however, that was pretty slow. He came to the Lone Star State’s Gulf of Mexico from Lake Superior on a sail-less sailboat along 2,400 miles of the Nation’s inland waterways. A former newspaper reporter/editor (The Philadelphia Inquirer) and a writing teacher for the city of College Station, Texas, Bill’s first book (Eleven Days in Hell, University of North Texas Press) was honored by the Writers League of Texas as the best in non-fiction for 2005. He also has his own weekly program on Texas A&M University’s public radio station, KAMU-FM. Harper came to journalism early in life. He was 15 when he started his “real” working career at what was then called a “copyboy” position at The Inquirer. After an ensuing award-winning association management career, via which the Mayor of Minneapolis proclaimed the City’s striking new Convention Center would “not have been built were it not for Bill Harper,” he did “go home again” when he turned author in his early retirement. Along the way, his life was in itself “one for the books.”
A high school dropout – who went on to earn BA and MBA degrees – he fathered six children, three boys and three girls. (He denies it was a “planned parenthood.”) He spent five years, one month, and 11 days in the U.S. military, all but basic training in a branch of the CIA. Harper was assigned to the Army, the Navy, and to the Air Force. “Nobody wanted me,” he says with a grin on his face. A most memorable part of his military duty was his participation in “Operation Ivy,” the firing of the world’s first H-bomb at Eniwetok Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.
As he was an observer at the birth of the Hydrogen Age, so too was he at the launching of Apollo 11 – which sent Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins to history’s first landing on the moon. Harper bantered with JFK at press conferences and chatted with HST in his Independence, Missouri library. He has also stood in a supermarket checkout line with Bush 41.
He was an avid sail-boater on the Great Lakes and beyond, a prize-winning skipper/owner of Harper’s Ferry in a number of 400-mile, Trans-Superior sailboat races. A somewhat less frantic trip was his 2,400-mile odyssey in his 47-foot sailboat through three of the Great Lakes, the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico. It took Harper from his old home in the Twin Cities of Minnesota to a somewhat smaller version, his retirement home in College Station, Texas.
Early in his early retirement, Harper stumbled upon a story he thought had to have been almost over-written. As it turned out, it never was completely covered – even though at the time it was only overshadowed on the national television newscasts by President Nixon’s resignation. Harper’s discovery turned into Eleven Days in Hell: The 1974 Carrasco Prison Siege in Huntsville, Texas. It won the Violet Crown Award presented by the Writers League of Texas as the “Best in Texas Non-Fiction for 2005.”
Another bit of journalistic recognition came his way in 2012 when his widely acclaimed Second Thoughts: Presidential Regrets with their Supreme Court Nominations was named an Honors Selection by the indie-publishers organization, B.R.A.G. Lawyers reading it have claimed it contains lessons “they never taught me in law school.”
His book on the perils and prizes of tow-boaters’ lives, The Rivers of Life - and Death, has been adopted by the National Mariners Association as a handbook for tow-boat operators. The media-labeled “author-historian” isn’t always in the grim world of prison sieges or life-and-death rivers (or in a prison death house as is covered in his An Eye for An Eye). In August of 2012, he published HOW COME? 96 Unanswerable Questions – such as, “HOW COME the ‘mirror, mirror on the wall’ never comes up with the right answer?!”