Remembering Walter Huchthausen And His Service to The World
Capt. Walter J. Huchthausen was the prototypical Monuments Man. Having studied in Germany while on a fellowship from Harvard, he was fluent in the language and familiar with the country’s museums. His career as an architect was filled with accomplishment including his work as teacher at several universities. In 1942, at thirty-eight years of age, he walked away from having life made to volunteer for military service in the U.S. Army Air Force.
“Hutch,” as he was affectionately known to his comrades, might have started his career as a Monuments Officer following the Normandy landings, alongside Monuments Men George Stout, Jim Rorimer, and a handful of others. However, he suffered a debilitating wound in June 1944, during a V-1 rocket attack of London, that sidelined Huchthausen until the fall. In early December 1944, he reported for duty as the Monuments Officer for U.S. Ninth Army. His first assignment began in the German city of Aachen, where he worked tirelessly to preserve that city’s magnificent medieval cathedral. When a reporter asked why he cared so much about a church in Nazi Germany, he replied with his characteristic magnanimity: “Aachen Cathedral belongs to the world, and if we can prevent it from falling in ruins…we are doing a service to the world.”
During the spring of 1945, Huchthausen made trips into the cities surrounding Aachen, and into the Netherlands, to inspect reports of looted works of art, assess damage to historic buildings, and note those monuments in need of repair. On April 2, less than a month before Germany’s unconditional surrender, Huchthausen and his driver veered into an enemy-controlled area and came under gunfire. Hutch was killed immediately. His slumping body shielded his driver and probably saved his life.
Many tributes to this fine man followed, but none more admiringly than that of his fellow officer (and artist), Monuments Man Capt. Walker Hancock. “The buildings that Hutch hoped, as a young architect, to build will never exist…but the few people who saw him at his job – friend and enemy – must think more of the human race because of him.”
Certainly, one of the most memorable experiences of my life took place in 2012, when the late Monuments Man Harry Ettlinger and I paid our respects to Walter at the site of his burial, the Netherlands American Cemetery in Margraten, Holland. Long may the accomplishments and sacrifice of this fine man live in our memory.