Nearly 70 years ago, Capt. Walter Huchthausen was gunned down in western Germany, somewhere near Aachen, while trying to protect some of the most important cultural touchstones in western civilization.
Huchthausen, a native of Perry, was one about 350 so-called Monuments Men, a group of art historians, archivists and other experts from 13 countries who made up the Allied armies' Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program during World War II.
During the war, Nazi troops rounded up works of art from galleries, museums and personal collections across Germany and the countries they conquered. They seized works Nazi officials deemed degenerate, and others earmarked for a museum Adolf Hitler planned to build in his hometown of Linz, Austria.
The group was assigned the task of locating, recovering and protecting the works of art, documents and other relics that had been looted by Nazi troops. Their work is the basis for the film “The Monuments Men,” which will be in theaters Friday.
The men and women assigned to the program recovered paintings, sculptures and other works by artists as prominent as Jan Vermeer and Leonardo da Vinci.
Huchthausen was born in Perry in 1904, the son of a German-born Lutheran minister, said his cousin, Lucia Smith. When he was about 19, Huchthausen's family moved from Oklahoma to Minneapolis, where his father, Julius, and Julius' brother, Johannes, served as pastors of a Lutheran church.
Huchthausen had a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Minnesota and a master's in architecture from Harvard University. While he was in school, he spent time in Germany, and he had grown up speaking German at home, Smith said, all of which made him a good fit for the program.
In 1942, Huchthausen, by then a faculty member at the University of Minnesota, was recruited to join the program, and the architecture professor-turned-solider was sent to Europe.