Updated: February 25, 2014 at 8:20 am
Dorothy Hammett Allen received a surprise recently. Her son, Richard, who lives in Connecticut, called to say he'd unearthed a military notebook that belonged to her father, Ralph W. Hammett, one of the Monuments Men.
"I sure didn't realize I'd passed on Monuments Men," said Allen, 81, who's lived in Colorado Springs for 14 years. "I was surprised to find he had the notebook. I would not have passed on that."
She thinks it must have been in a box of mementos she gave her son and is itching to get her hands on it this summer when the family gets together.
For now, though, she'll have to make do with George Clooney's latest film, "The Monuments Men," which rolled into theaters this month.
"I loved the movie," she said as she sat on her couch holding a framed "The Monuments Men" film poster her children made for her. Taped on the poster is a small square photo of her father. Hammett died in 1984. He was 88.
"I was most pleased. It was not close to the book ("The Monuments Men" by Robert Edsel"). It didn't tell you who was who, it didn't name the Monuments Men, but they all were a compilation. There was one who really reminded me of my father, but the whole group did - their sense of humor being a little weird, as it is in war time."
Adolf Hitler and the Nazis not only targeted human life during World War II but millions of pieces of precious artwork all over Europe.
The Monuments Men responded. They were Allied soldiers, including American civilians - men and women - working as professors, museum directors, curators and art historians, and they left their stateside lives to rescue looted art and protect important churches, museums and historic buildings.
Edsel reports in his book that the Monuments Men saved 5 million cultural objects from theft and destruction during World War II.
Hammett was a professor of architecture at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor when he volunteered to go to war.
"He was a very popular professor," Allen said. "He was a very kind and excellent lecturer."
He served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945, based out of Paris, though he made trips all over Europe looking for art.
"He made up a card file for all of France and Belgium of what was where before the war," Allen said, "and he tried to get it back to that spot."
She remembers what it was like when her dad took her to Europe for a few months when she was in college.
"It was like he was telling stories out of that card file. I remember him taking me through The Louvre, and saying this was held in such and such a storage area," Allen said.
She thinks he probably saved hundreds, maybe thousands, of pieces of art.
Allen's other son, Ralph, who lives in Arkansas, has pored over 14 pages of the notebook his brother emailed him and can't put it down or stop doing research. The treasure includes a partial list of the names of Monuments Men, European museums and minutes from meetings.
Ralph Allen had a vague idea as a child what his grandfather had done but now wishes he had spent more time talking to him about it.
"He knew it was important and all that," he said, "but like a lot of vets, didn't talk about it a lot. He came home and said that he was just ready to get back to his normal life.
"This (the movie) really drives home the horror of the war and what they were doing," he added. "Again, it's not a Jewish story; it's really the story of the saving of Western culture. Hitler in the movie has it if he steals all the art and the war is lost, all of the art and the buildings are going to be destroyed. So when you see the ones at one of the locations after it had been done, it shows them using flamethrowers to destroy thousands of pieces of artwork, that was the order put out there."
At the age of 13, Ralph Allen traveled to Europe with his grandfather.
"We visited a lot of these locations that he had helped protect during the war," he said. "That was him trying to pass that history, and that's how the movie ends."
After Dorothy Allen saw the movie, she wanted to turn around and go see it again a few more times.
"I needed this," she said. "My father's been dead 30 years. You put it in the back of your mind, and all of a sudden you have some really wonderful thoughts about him. And I'm amazed how excited my children are about it."
Contact Jennifer Mulson at 636-0270 or email@example.com