Seven decades after the Allied Armies of World War II commissioned the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program to preserve art and architectural treasures from the wrath of war, the hundreds of so-called “Monuments Men” are set to achieve new fame with the upcoming release of a feature film starring Matt Damon, George Clooney, and others.


Alumni “Monuments Men” Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald *1914 *1916, far right, and Lt. Perry Cott ’29 *37, third from left, examine relics of the Holy Roman regalia upon their return to Vienna in 1946. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD)

Princetonians played a significant role in the MFAA’s efforts, and in a 2010 PAW feature story, W. Barksdale Maynard ’88 highlighted the wartime and postwar activities of several alumni, including Lt. Col. Ernest DeWald *1914 *1916, a World War I veteran who joined the MFAA efforts in Italy. Maynard described DeWald’s experiences, drawing on the professor’s pocket diary, now housed at Firestone Library:

“Air-raid sirens howled as he reconnoitered medieval towns for endangered art. DeWald often came upon Army engineering units bulldozing fallen buildings out of roadways, using the debris to patch holes in blown-up bridges — until he frantically waved them to stop, pointing out fragments of historic sculpture, fresco, and manuscripts mingled with the rubble. ‘It’s amazing what Italian experts can piece together from what appears to be just a pile of smashed rock,’ he told PAW in a wartime letter.”

After returning home, DeWald directed the Princeton University Art Museum until 1960, when he retired and was succeeded by fellow MFAA veteran Patrick “Joe” Kelleher *47.

Other alumni Monuments Men included Lt. Cdr. Perry Cott ’29 *37, Lt. Robert Koch *54, Capt. Everett “Bill” Lesley *37, Lt. Charles Parkhurst *41, and Lt. Craig Hugh Smyth ’38 *56.

READ MORE: When art historians went to war (PAW, June 2, 2010)