Robert M. Edsel Delivers Keynote Address at Ceremony Celebrating the First Graduating Class of Army Monuments Officer Training—Monuments Men and Women of the 21st Century—and Named Honorary Graduate of the Program
Washington, DC…On August 12, 2022, Robert M. Edsel, founder and chairman of the Monuments Men and Women Foundation (MMWF), delivered the keynote address at a ceremony celebrating the graduation of the inaugural class of the Army Monuments Officer Training (AMOT) program at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. The graduating class of 21 participants— including Army Reserve officers and international experts—and invited guests were joined by family members of six of the original Monuments Men. In acknowledgement of his and the MMWF’s work honoring these original scholar-soldiers, Edsel was named an honorary AMOT graduate and presented with a special certificate at the reception following the ceremony.
The program is the result of a partnership of Smithsonian Institution’s Cultural Rescue Initiative (SCRI) and U.S. Army Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command (Airborne) (USACAPOC[A]). AMOT continues the legacy of the Monuments Men and Women (MMW) of the Western Allied Armies responsible for mitigating damage to cultural treasures by Allied bombing and artillery. Near the end of the war, they were also tasked with locating and returning millions of works of art and other cultural objects stolen by the Nazis.
AMOT trains and supports officers and others whose mission is to safeguard cultural heritage in conflict zones. These individuals are technical experts in their fields, applying their civilian skills and expertise in a military context. The class of 2022 includes art historians, archivists, data scientists, archeologists, curators, conservators, educators, and legal advisors, among others.
The August training was the first in-person class hosted by the Smithsonian solidifying their long-term partnership with USACAPOC(A). It also provides an opportunity for the Smithsonian’s and other preservation experts to better understand the challenges the military faces in hazardous conflict zones.
The commencement ceremony featured remarks by Dr. Richard Kurin, Distinguished Scholar and Ambassador-at-Large, Smithsonian Institution; Brigadier General Andrée G. Carter, Deputy Commanding General, USACAPOC(A); Corine Wegener, SCRI director; and Lawrence Di Rita, Greater Washington, DC, Market President, Bank of America, lead corporate sponsor of SCRI. Also in attendance was Col. Scott DeJesse, director for the program under the auspices of the Heritage and Preservation branch of USACAPOC(A).
Dr. Kurin noted Edsel’s work raising awareness of the Monuments Men and Woman service as a gift to the world, “exposing tens of millions, maybe even hundreds of millions of people in so many places around the world of this mission.”
Edsel said, “It was a high honor to be invited to speak at this historic occasion and stand with this cadre of new Monuments Men and Women for the 21st century who are building on the extraordinary achievements of their World War II counterparts. Over 20 years ago, I began researching their stories with a goal of sharing their critically important work with a global audience. What they accomplished was unparalleled and deserved that broader recognition. We have accomplished that mission principally through the Foundation, publications, and films. In 2023, another idea we have nurtured for almost 15 years will become a reality: the Monuments Men and Women Gallery at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. It will be the world’s first permanent museum exhibition dedicated to telling these men and women’s remarkable story. The AMOT program marks the culmination of years of advocacy by the MMWF and many other like-minded people who know that cultural heritage preservation is an obligation and privilege serving humankind. When cultural touchstones are threatened, looted, or destroyed, we are all diminished.”
Edsel’s remarks focused on how his interest in this chapter in history began in 1996, in Florence, Italy, when he questioned how millions of priceless artworks and artifacts survived the destruction and chaos of WWII and its aftermath. His early curiosity and research led to his co-producing the documentary “The Rape of Europa” (2006) based on an acclaimed book by scholar Lynn H. Nicholas. Through subsequent books and projects, one resulting in the feature film, “The Monuments Men” (2014) directed and co-produced by George Clooney, Edsel introduced these heroes to a global audience – museum directors, curators, art historians, architects, artists, and librarians who left behind established careers and families to volunteer for military service and go into harm’s way to save museum treasures, libraries, and churches.
On the morning of August 12, Edsel joined Jim Huchthausen, nephew of one of two Monuments Men killed in combat during World War II, to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Also in attendance was Col. DeJesse and the AMOT graduating class.
Anna Bottinelli, president of the Monuments Men and Women Foundation, said, “This year, we updated the Foundation’s name to formally acknowledge what we have always written about and celebrated: the role of the Monuments Women during World War II. The new name accurately reflects who these heroes were as we continue to raise awareness of their legacy and continue the mission of returning missing artworks and objects to their rightful owners. We extend our warm congratulations to the Monuments Men and Women of today as they undertake this essential work—representing our nation’s values around the globe.”
About the Monuments Men and Women Foundation
The Monuments Men Foundation is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization created to raise worldwide awareness about the service of the Monuments Men and Women, honor them for their achievements, and complete their unfinished mission of returning looted and missing art to the rightful owners.
Since its founding in 2007, the Foundation has helped tell the stories of these scholar-soldiers and their remarkable feats protecting cultural objects and monuments during World War II—the most destructive war in history—and, at war’s end, returning some four million stolen works of art and other cultural treasures to the rightful owners. In 2015, after eight years of advocacy by the Foundation, Congress awarded the Monuments Men and Women of all fourteen nations the Congressional Gold Medal. For its sustained efforts to identify and recognize the contributions of the Monuments Men and Women, President George W. Bush awarded the Foundation the National Humanities Medal in 2007, the highest honor in the United States for work in the humanities.
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