Pelosi Remarks at Congressional Gold Medal Ceremony Honoring the WWII Monuments Men
“Good afternoon, everyone. Mr. Speaker, Mr. Leader, Mr. Leader.
“For our Speaker, this is his last Gold Medal Ceremony. So, it’s an emotional time for many reasons, including that. Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for making it so lovely.
“I want to join in acknowledging the leadership of Senator [Bob] Menendez, Senator [Roy] Blunt, Congress Madam Chair [Kay] Granger, Congressman [Michael] Capuano of Massachusetts.
“Robert Edesl, you’re a hero to us. Thank you. Thank you so much.
“As author, founder and Chairman of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art, you have done such a large part in preserving art, as well. Thank you. We’re honored by your presence.
“In March of 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt dedicated the National Gallery of Art, just down the [National] Mall from here. As the crowd gathered, Britain struggled beneath the bombs of the blitz; Nazi occupiers looted the finest art of Western Europe and ransacked the property of Jewish families – a vast program of theft and destruction. And with the world at war, as the President – President Roosevelt – opened a new American home for the world’s masterworks, President Roosevelt spoke the fundamental truth at the heart of what the Monument Men’s mission was. He said this, ‘Whatever these paintings may have been to men – and women – who looked at them generations back – today, they are not only works of art. Today, they are the symbols of the human spirit, symbols of the world, the freedom of the human spirit has made.’
“As we saw in the film, President Eisenhower said, ‘These are the ideals for which the war was fought.’ Thank you, Anne Eisenhower, for honoring us with your presence today, as well.
“The many women of the Monuments, fine arts and archives section were charged with a staggering responsibility by General – then-General Eisenhower.
“Across a whole world, set ablaze by war’s destruction, against the last thrashes of the Nazi’s nihilism, preserve the treasures of humanity. That was the charge. Ranging thousands of miles, operating with few resources and little direct authority, the Monuments Men often relied more on their own grit ingenuity and power of persuasion than other things.
“As just a handful of men and women – I want to emphasize the women – and never more than a few hundred, they fought to rescue millions of artifacts and not access hands and protect through the fire of the ally’s military’s advance. Some gave their lives in the effort. But thanks to the Monuments Men, the war that claims so much, that took the lives of so many, would not also destroy the creativity that connects us to the heritage of civilization. And because of their perseverance and painstaking detective work, millions and millions of artifacts were saved for the public and/or returned to their rightful owners.
“The poet Shelley once wrote, ‘The greatest force for moral good is imagination.’ It is imagination that gives us the creativity and of the arts that our common humanity finds a home. We see what we have in common, we understand other people’s thinking – so, this was not just about the objects, it was about the creativity and the imagination, which is a force for good.
“With the last-living Monuments Men among us – and women – we stand in the presence of greatness. Thank you, for your greatness of courage and your greatness of commitment.
Sergeant Harry Ettlinger, we’ll be hearing from you. Private First-Class Richard Barancik, thank you and welcome. Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, thank you, ma’am. And Lieutenant Bernard Taper, of Berkley and my city of San Francisco – you saw him in the film. I also want to acknowledge – because as was said earlier, so many family members are here – just to name one more, Maya Melrose, attending ceremony on behalf of her great aunt, Mary Regan-Quessenberry, another woman of the Monuments. But thank you to all of the family members who are here.
“As we present the Congressional Gold Medal to the Monuments Men and women, we recognize the truth of our own to add President Roosevelt’s wisdom at the National Gallery. I’m so happy that so many ambassadors are here – welcome, ambassadors – to be with us as we observe that today, the art of the MFAA returned – the monuments they saved – these things stand not only as artifacts of the inspiration, devotion and artistry of distant ages, they endure as testimony to the boundless determination, passion and creativity of the men and women we are proud to honor with this Gold Medal Ceremony today. You’re receiving it – my friends – brings luster to this honor.
“Congratulations, and thank you.”