(Editor's note: Sarah Hill is employed by both KOMU 8 and Veterans United Home Loans. In an agreement with news management at the TV station, she will provide occassional stories about veterans, their issues and lives. Her stories will not focus on her employment at VUHL or on the company's business, so as not to cause a conflict of interest with her coverage.)
COLUMBIA - The World War II memorial wasn't built until 2004 and, sadly, most World War II veterans won't live long enough to see it. In an effort to get veterans to Washington, D.C., Honor Flight has flown thousands of veterans to see their memorial. But some veterans who apply to go on these free flights are too sick to travel.
Now, using new technology, there's a way aging and even terminally ill veterans across the country can still experience an Honor Flight without leaving their homes, hospital beds or assisted living centers.
In a partnership with Veterans United Home Loans, Virtual Photo Walks and Central Missouri Honor Flight, volunteers are using Google+ Hangouts to provide virtual tours of not only the WWII memorial in Washington, D.C., but Pearl Harbor, the beaches of Normandy, France, the site of the D-Day Invasion, and even battleships like the USS Alabama. Future plans call for virtual tours to Mount Suribachi, the site of the flag raising during the battle for Iwo Jima.
How Does it Work?
Volunteers bring laptops to aging veterans who experience a virtual tour in real time by joining a Google+ Hangout, which is a 10-person video chat room. The veterans can talk with fellow veterans, see their memorials and ask questions about them in real time, all from a laptop. Additional volunteers with video cameras attached to live streaming rigs serve as the arms and legs for the veteran, responding to their requests to move in closer or linger at a certain location near their memorial. The service is free and open to any veteran of any conflict who is not able to fly.
If you know of a veteran who isn't able to travel who would enjoy a virtual tour of their memorials, please visit www.virtualphotowalks.org to print an application. If you know of a veteran who IS able to travel and would enjoy a free experience to Washington, D.C., please visit www.centralmissourihonorflight.com Don't wait. We are losing our World War II veterans at a rate of about a thousand a day nationwide.
If you'd like to join the Hangout on November 6th to thank one of these veterans, please visit www.vu.com/plus1 and add it to your Google+ circles.