A Monument Man

Published Feb. 11, 2014

When Deputy Counsel Ralph Allen from the Little Rock District Corps of Engineers was 13-years-old his grandfather took him on a tour through Europe explaining what the United States and Allies endured during World War II. What Allen didn’t know as boy is that his grandfather was a Monuments Man charged with preserving the history and architecture of the war torn country during the world’s darkest hours. The recent release of George Clooney’s new film “Monuments Men,” has propelled Allen and his family to research the legacy of their beloved grandfather.  

“If I could take a tour of Europe with my grandfather knowing what I do now… man… It would be totally different and I’d have hundreds of questions,” said Allen, who is a collector and self- proclaimed history buff.

So when George Clooney’s new film “The Monument Men” started advertising the release of the movie, members of Allen’s family started looking more into the past of their relative’s life as a real Monument Man.

While Allen’s grandfather, Ralph Hammett, does not appear to be portrayed in the film, it chronicles the work of about 185 Monuments Men who fought to protect historical and cultural artifacts during World War II.

Hammett became a Monument’s Man in his late 40s after taking unpaid leave from the University of Michigan from 1943-1945 to serve in the Army.  He used his education and experience as an architect to help identify and save significant buildings in northwest Europe.

Prior to the release of “The Monuments Men” a member of the Allen family discovered Hammett’s military notebook and diary earlier this month.

“It’s so fascinating to see the similarities and accuracies in the movie by comparison to my grandfather’s journal,” said Allen. “Watching the film was so amazing for me and my family, it was almost like we had a little more time to sit and listen to my grandfather.”

Hammett’s papers document the set- up and assignments for Monument Officers after D-Day as the Allies spread across France and Europe. Hammett lists what officers were Monument Men and what units they were assigned to assist. 

Hammett wrote about the procedures and what Monuments Men do when they discover lost, looted or damaged artwork and architecture.  At the same time he added personal touches of what they saw and who they met in the newly liberated areas.

“It’s crazy to think that my granddad was a part of saving history and was at several events that shaped the outcome of the war,” said Allen. 

 In 1945, the French government awarded Hammett the Palmes Academiques, Officer d’Academic de France, for his services.

After the war, Hammett returned to The University of Michigan and remained there until 1965. He continued to work as an architect and wrote Architecture in the United States, a survey of architectural styles in the United States, in 1976. He died in June 1984 in Rochester, Minn.

Ralph W. Hammett is survived by his daughter, Dorothy Hammett Allen and his grandson and namesake, Ralph Hammett Allen. 

Allen cherishes and keeps many of his grandfather’s collections and history interests.

In the few days that Monuments Men has been in theaters Allen has uncovered several misplaced stories from his grandfather’s life, but rediscovered the monumental man that he truly was.  

Information for this article and more information about Ralph W. Hammett and the Monument Men can be found on the Internet at:

1.   http://www.monumentman.org/about-ralph-warner-hammett/

2.   http://learyjournalism.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/ralph-w-hammett-ann-arbors-monuments-man-full-article/

3.   http://www.monumentsmenfoundation.org/the-heroes/the-monuments-men/hammett-capt.-ralph-w