In the mid-1980s, I saw the movie Testament, starring Jane Alexander and William Devane. The story is set in a fictitious town of Hamlin (near San Francisco), and tells the story of an average American family in a Norman Rockwell town. One moment, the kids are watching an afternoon show, waiting for Dad to get home so they can eat dinner. In the next moment, Mom and the kids see an emergency message pop up on the TV, warning of incoming ICBMs and a nuclear attack. There’s a flash of blinding light, and then the electricity and phone go dead.
“Testament” is a remarkable movie because there are no fireballs and no mushroom clouds in Hamlin. Neither people nor houses are damaged by the blast. Terrified neighbors pour out of their stately homes and into the street, trying to figure out what has just happened. The people of Hamlin are cut off from the world, knowing nothing, except that a nuclear device has exploded - somewhere far away.
Before the sun sets on that first awful, post-nuclear day, the real hero of the story emerges. It’s the old man down the street, Henry Abhart, who has both a Ham radio and a small generator. In the gloaming, neighbors in the upper-middle class burg gather at his house. As they walk up the steps to his magnificent bungalow, we hear Henry in the background.
After a little more time at his Ham radio, Henry reports back to his anxious neighbors now cloistered in his living room.
Looking pensive, he reports, “Well, folks, so far I can’t raise Seattle, Portland, Sacramento or Southern California. San Francisco is silent. The entire Bay Area. North of us, now, they’re okay.”
“What about Chicago?” someone asks.
With great solemnity in his voice he replies, “So far, I can’t raise anything east of Keokuk, lowa.”
After a few more comments he adds, “We may be crippled, but we’re not cut off and we’re not dead.”
I’ve always remembered that scene. Thanks to an old man ensconced in a homemade Ham Shack in the corner of a California bungalow, people are not cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a powerful image.
The take-away message I gleaned from this powerful scene is this: Ham Radio Operators are the helpers. They’re the ones that have both the skills and the tools to keep us going when all the more modern and more complex (and more delicate) systems have failed. I believe that - in my lifetime - our country won’t suffer a nuclear event, but we may face natural disasters and severe storms and other communications-interrupting events. And when we do, the ability to communicate (which has the same root as the word “community”) will be an urgent need.
It feels good to accomplish a long-cherished dream. It feels wonderful to learn a new skill. I look forward to learning how to “play” with a new-fangled, 21st Century Ham Radio. But it also feels mighty good to know that if there ever were an urgent need in my neck of the woods, I’m equipped and empowered to be “one of the helpers.”
To learn more about Ham Radio, click here.
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