SHREVEPORT – Samuel Wayne Harrison said the Air Force taught him to “live his life on purpose.” That core tenet propelled Harrison to think critically, and Harrison registered nine medical patents and brought two p
roducts to market in a decorated career as
a registered cardiovascular invasive specialist for 35 years. He shared his life story and how his military service impacted him Friday in the LSUS Collaboratory as part of the University’s Veterans Day event, which drew nearly 200 attendees.
Harrison comes from a long line of military service members, which included his great-great-grandfather (98th Regiment U.S. Colored Infantry in the Civil War) along with various family members serving in virtually every branch through the years.
Harrison needed his parent’s permission to sign up for the Air Force when he was 17 years old. Just 10 days later, his brother Walter was killed in action while deactivating French mines left in Vietnam.
Harrison was posted at NKP Air Base in Thailand, just across the Mekong River from Laos, which was the target of heavy bombing because of the importance of the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
“We would receive rocket attacks on occasion because this was the base from where all orders and missions came,” Harrison said. “We had metal barricades in front of our (housing), and when incoming fire came in, you’d jump in these bunkers. “The bombs that were being dropped on Laos, even though we weren’t in the direct line of fire, these bombs would shake you to your core.” The consistent grind of war, plus the trauma of his brother’s death, sent Harrison into a downward spiral throughout his military service at NKP Air Base from 1974-75. But upon his honorable discharge, Harrison said he used what the military taught him to excel in civilian life.
Harrison enrolled at Grambling State – because of legendary football coach Eddie Robinson and the World Famed Tiger marching band – and chose to major in biology.
“Even though the military hurt me emotionally, it helped me academically and socially,” Harrison explained. “The military taught me to live by principles and not by preferences.
“When they were asking students what their major was at orientation, I noticed any time that a student said one of the life sciences, everyone would say, ‘Oooh, (he/she) was smart.’ So when they asked me, I said biology. I didn’t have any idea how I was going to make it because I had not studied anything of the sort, and I had basically stopped reading anything because I was on a downward spiral. “But because the military taught me how to neutralize threats … I would sit at my desk in my room and rewrite my notes over and over and over again.” Harrison said he didn’t want to embarrass himself, and he “studied and studied until I made it.”
Upon graduation, he visited the LSU Medical Center in Shreveport and decided that he’d apply for – and get – the first job that involved one of the life sciences. “I didn’t know what the position of cardiopulmonary technologist was, but it sounded good, and it sounded important,” Harrison said. “I applied for it, and I got it. The military taught me tenacity and how to look forward. I told them they would not regret this decision, and that I’d be the best cardiopulmonary technologist that this city has ever known.”
Harrison studied alongside the cardiologists even though he wasn’t a physician, learning about the heart and going to conferences. “I discovered ways to improve on things and processes,” Harrison said. Harrison developed a device that attached to 18-gauge needles to catch blood splatter that would normally spray back onto the physician. He also invented a storage device and process to save an expensive fluid used in nonionic contrast in the cardiology procedures. Harrison served as the director of invasive cardiovascular technology at Southern University Shreveport from 1995-2002 before excelling in regional sales and management at Medi-lynx until his retirement in 2019. “If it wasn’t for the military, I wouldn’t be where I am or who I am today,” Harrison said. The speaker was brought in by the LSUS Veterans Resource Center and the LSUS Strategy Alternatives Consortium.
LSUS serves a substantial number of veterans and active service military members.
“We gather here today in gratitude to pay tribute to the brave men and women who have served this great nation in our armed forces,” said LSUS Chancellor Dr. Robert Smith. “As we observe Veterans Day, we come together as a university and community to express our deepest appreciation for our veterans’ selfless dedication, sacrifice and unwavering commitment to protecting our freedom. We’re most fortunate to have veterans within our university community, including students, staff, faculty and alumni.”