Today, Congresswoman Kay Granger (TX-12) introduced bipartisan legislation, The Monuments Men Recognition Act of 2013, H.R. 3658, to honor the famed “Monuments Men” of World War II with the Congressional Gold Medal. The Monuments Men and women helped locate famous works of art confiscated by the Nazis, and return them to their rightful owners.

“I don’t believe it can be overstated how significant the contributions of the Monuments Men are to the preservation of many of the world’s most remarkable pieces of art,” said Granger. “The story of the Monuments Men is one that has to be told, and should be shared as an instrumental part of US and world history. I believe the veterans who participated are certainly worthy and deserving of the recognition of Congress’ highest expression of appreciation, the Congressional Gold Medal.”

President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the concept of cultural preservation officers in 1943. The Monuments Men and women were a group of World War II soldiers from 13 nations, most of whom were American, who were able to locate, preserve, and return almost five million cultural items, including many of the world’s greatest works of art, to their rightful owners. The Monuments Men served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Western Allied Armies.

The story of the Monuments Men has been covered extensively by Robert Edsel. Edsel is the founder and president of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art and has written three non-fiction books on the topic including, Rescuing Da Vinci, The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History and Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis.

“The Monuments Men and women set the gold standard for the protection of cultural treasures during the most destructive conflict in history,” said Robert M. Edsel. “These heroes of civilization are worthy recipients of this great honor.”  

In February 2014, the movie The Monuments Men, directed by George Clooney, will be released. The movie will follow “an unlikely World War II platoon…tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves…”. Matt Damon, George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, John Goodman, and Bill Murray among many others are starring in the upcoming movie.

Some of the world’s most famous pieces of art were saved and recovered by this special military effort including Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna, Vermeer’s The Astronomer, and Jan van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece as well as works by Vincent van Gogh, Rembrandt and Leonardo da Vinci. In addition to preserving countless churches and other historic structures from the destruction of war, the Monuments Men and women oversaw the restitution of millions of stolen library books, church bells, Torah scrolls, and other priceless cultural objects to their rightful owners.

Starting with the American Revolution, Congress has awarded gold medals as its highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. Congressional Gold Medal legislation must be co-sponsored by at least two-thirds of the Members of the House of Representatives.

Honoring the work of the Monument Men has been a long-term effort for Congresswoman Granger. In 2007, Granger introduced H. Con. Res 48 a resolution to honor the contributions of these men and women. During the Armed Services Committee markup in May 2007, then Congressman Robin Hayes offered the resolution as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment was approved by the Armed Services Committee and was included as part of the Defense Authorization Act that passed the House.

There are currently only five surviving members – four men and one woman – of the Monuments Men.