The Allied Armies’ Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives unit — better known as the “Monuments Men” — was awarded Congress’ highest recognition Monday.
The Monuments Men and women were artistic and architectural experts charged with the task of protecting Europe’s cultural treasures in the midst of World War II. They followed soldiers into battle to preserve churches from the devastation of war, hunt down art stolen by Nazis and return it to its rightful owners.
The multinational group, made up mostly of Americans, recovered artwork by such luminaries as Leonardo da Vinci, Vincent van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer.
Six members of the Monuments Men are still living, according to a Congressional news release about the law to recognize the unit, which President Obama signed Monday night.
To award a Congressional Gold Medal, two-thirds of the members of Congress must co-sponsor the bill. The first gold medal was awarded to George Washington in 1776. More recent honorees include the astronauts who made the first moon landing, the Tuskegee Airmen, Pope John Paul II and Frank Sinatra.