- Associated Press - Sunday, June 25, 2017

LAFAYETTE, La. (AP) - Herman Campbell doesn’t have to read history books about to know about polio, a crippling disease that vaccines have nearly erased from the planet. Born in 1939, when polio was killing thousands, Campbell was 6 years old when he contracted the disease. He was paralyzed from the neck down.

Hospitalized for more than six months, Campbell had to learn to crawl and walk again. He developed scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that left him with bouts of respiratory failure, back pain and other problems.

Doctors are amazed that Campbell can walk, drive, cut grass and perform other chores. Surgery may help him, but there are no guarantees.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to be laid up in the bed with surgery, I have to leave my house,’” said Campbell, an Arkansas native. “Ham radio is one of the things that keep me going.

“I enjoy ham radio and meeting the people. You’ll never meet a nicer group of people in any organization as you will find in ham radio. They’re always willing to help.”

Campbell and members of the Acadiana Amateur Radio Association are among the thousands of hams who will take their equipment outdoors for Field Day. Sponsored by the American Radio Relay League, Field Day is a 24-hour, nationwide event that allows hams to contact as many stations as possible in abnormal conditions.

Hams have used their radio gear to help during parades, festivals, marathons and other outdoor events. But for generations, their communications skills have been vital during times of disaster.

When electricity, cell phones and internet fail during hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, hams can still communicate worldwide with just a radio and a wire antenna. They work with government and other officials to pass messages in and out of areas cut off from the outside world.

Field Day helps hams practice for these emergency situations.

“It’s ham radio preparedness,” said Campbell, who moved to Lafayette in 1960. “In case we have an emergency, it’s good training.

“It is a competitive event, too. You try to make as many contacts as you can in a certain amount of time. You get recognized by turning the information into the ARRL and they publish it in their QST magazine.”

Campbell’s public service work helped him earn the 2010 Ham of the Year Award for the ARRL Louisiana section. He frequently participates in “nets,” on-air meetings where hams pass messages and exchange information.

Campbell is part of the Salvation Army Team Emergency Radio Network and SKYWARN, storm spotters who report severe weather conditions to the National Weather Service.

Besides public service, Campbell has chatted with hams in all 50 states and more than 90 countries from his home station. He’s talked to ships at sea and exchanged postcards, called QSL cards, with hundreds of contacts.

“Ham radio is something everybody can do. You don’t have to be a football player, or anything like that. There’s a lot of handicapped people that are into ham radio. Some are visually impaired. Some are blind.

“It’s a good, clean hobby. If it wouldn’t be from ham radio, I’d probably go out, have a few drinks at night in the bars. I really can’t afford it and might get in trouble.

“But it’s interesting and there’s always something going on. Every week, there’s some kind of contest or special events going on.”

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