Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honors Monuments Men

The Monuments Men encountered repositories such as this one all across Europe. Here, piles of boxes, records, and clothing are guarded by an American GI inside a church in Ellingen, Germany

The Monuments Men encountered repositories such as this one all across Europe. Here, piles of boxes, records, and clothing are guarded by an American GI inside a church in Ellingen, Germany

A year after the President signed the Monuments Men Recognition Act (H.R. 3658), leaders of the U.S. House and Senate presented a Congressional Gold Medal on October 22, 2015, in recognition of the group of men and women who protected and recovered historical sites and cultural artifacts during World War II. The ceremony was held in Emancipation Hall in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center.

During World War II, President Roosevelt created the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section. The 345 civilian soldiers — mostly middle-aged men and women who were historians, architects and museum personnel before the war—were assigned to recover the works of art stolen from homes, museums, churches and elsewhere. Roosevelt charged them with preserving and protecting priceless artifacts around Europe which faced destruction under Hitler-led Nazi forces. Without their efforts, thousands of works of art and monuments of history that created the rich cultural history in Europe would have been lost forever. The group saved more than 5 million works of art.

“Art is an expression of humanity and the human experience. The Monuments Men put their lives in jeopardy to save priceless art and preserve important cultural artifacts,” said the Law’s co-sponsor, Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09). “Their quiet dedication ensured that generations to come will be able to enjoy and be uplifted by the great art that would have otherwise been lost.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Monuments Men, some of whom descended hundreds of feet into salt mines to recover pieces, saved the “creativity that connects us to the heritage of civilization.”

“They are truly heroes,” said Rep. Kay Granger, (R-Texas), who co-sponsored the bill awarding them the medals

Four of the six surviving “Monuments Men,” Richard Baranick, Harry Ettlinger, Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, and Bernard Taper, attended the ceremony and were honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the nation’s highest civilian award the United States Congress can bestow. Pursuant to H.R.3658, a single gold medal has been struck to honor the Monuments Men for their service.

“I, as baby of these soldiers, on behalf of those that are alive and those that have gone to the great beyond, graciously accept this great honor,” Harry Ettlinger, 89 and a Monuments Men’s veteran, said at the gold medal ceremony. “Let us again, and again announce, to the people of the world that their culture will be cherished as long as they respect the culture of others

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Public Law 113-116 directed the U.S. Mint to strike the gold medal as well as make and sell bronze medal replicas of it to the public. A 3-inch version is available for $39.95 and a 1.5-inch medal is for sale at $6.95. Order them from the Mint’s website at catalog.usmint.gov or call 1-800-USA-MINT (872-6468).

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