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September 27, 2012 | 12:00 a.m. CST
Bud Garnett stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day in June 1944. Years later, when his family visited the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., his health prevented him from making the trip in person. All he had was a framed collage of pictures from his relatives’ trip that was displayed in his family room.
However, thanks to Google+ Hangouts, Garnett, who is now in his 90s and from Laddonia, was able to see the beaches live for the first time since D-Day.
Sarah Hill, a storyteller and social media strategist for Veterans United, uses Google+ Hangouts to virtually send WWII veterans to historic places such as Normandy, France and the memorial in Washington, D.C.
The nationwide Honor Flight Network helps veterans fly to the capital to see the memorial first-hand, but some cannot physically make the trip. With the virtual honor flights, volunteers take video of places such as the memorial and the beaches in France with their cellphones, and veterans in the Google+ Hangout can view a live-feed of these historic places.
The virtual honor flights, as a part of this bigger social media trend, have proven that the medium can provide a lot more than a quick look at current affairs.
Retweeting the past
Just as most daily newspapers tweet breaking news, special Twitter accounts are making historical events feel as if they are happening in real time.
Imagine if Lewis and Clark live-tweeted their journey to the West. The parody writers of Historicaltweets.com came up with a possibility from @Lewis to @Clark asking if he knows about Google Maps. The tweet ends with “ugh. last 6 months, wasted.”
For followers, these accounts provide a more concrete and personal way to experience history and humor in a medium they use every day instead of from a textbook. The Twitter accounts @RealTimeWWII and @CivilWarReporter, for example, offer followers glimpses into the cultural effects of each war, often with pictures included.
The account @TitanicRealTime live-tweeted the sinking of the Titanic for the 100th anniversary in April this year. The tragedy was retold from various perspectives: #firstclass, #thirdclass, #captain, #engineering, a lifeboat called #BoatNo1 and more. The people who created the Titanic account are preparing a Twitter handle for the 125th anniversary of Jack the Ripper’s first murders, which took place in 1888. Tweeting of the historical crimes will begin in August 2013.
Jerry Gamblin, a self-proclaimed history geek from Jefferson City, says the tweets from accounts such as these are interesting or funny facts that he researches further. Gamblin recalls one tweet from
@RealTimeWWII that said Italian winter holiday resorts had resumed advertising because they thought the war would end soon. Unfortunately, the fighting wouldn’t be over for five more years, which made their publicizing premature. “A lot of the tweets are soft history,” Gamblin says. “But they are things that won’t show up in a history book.”
Social media offers history in bite-sized chunks, but some prefer a broader view of world-changing events. Jeff Pasley, an associate professor at MU Department of History, wrote in an email that the trend of live-tweeting history is “cute” but that history needs to be understood in a wider context than the snapshots offered in 140 characters.