MORRISTOWN, NJ -As Memorial Day approaches, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) today announced that the Congressional Gold Medal will be awarded to the "Monuments Men," who worked to protect cultural artifacts during World War II, including New Jerseyan Harry Ettlinger. The Senator's bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate and now heads to President Obama for his signature.

"I am so proud that the Congressional Gold Medal will now be awarded to the brave men and women who rescued, protected and preserved innumerable works of art and artifacts that would have been lost forever during World War II," Sen. Menendez said. "On behalf of our nation, and for the sake of our next generation - we thank you."

Sen. Menendez made the public announcement at the annual Morris County Memorial Day Ceremony, where Ettlinger was the keynote speaker. The County Board of Chosen Freeholders bestowed 11 local veterans with the Morris County Distinguished Military Service Medal. The Senator thanked each for his and her service and presented them with certificates and American flags that flew over the U.S. Capitol in their honor.

"This Memorial Day once again finds New Jerseyans serving in uniform thousands of miles from home and family," Sen. Menendez acknowedged. "They are New Jersey proud and New Jersey strong and they have our thanks, our prayers, and our support. We salute them."

The following Morris County veterans were recognized during today's ceremony:

  • Sean P. Abrusci, Marines, Succasunna
  • Brandon Ashby, Army, Morristown
  • Kimberley Ike, Army, Budd Lake
  • Charles E. Johnson, Navy, Randolph
  • Eric Kowal, Marines, Dover
  • Luis Maldonado, Army, Morris Plains
  • Frank Misurelli, Air Force, Dover
  • Mario Monaco, Marines, Fairfield
  • Dwight David Eisenhower Wallace, Army, Morristown
  • Ron Wenzel, Coast Guard, Lincoln Park

In December of 2013, Menendez introduced bipartisan legislation in the Senate to recognize the "Monuments Men," a group of approximately 350 men and women from 13 countries who are credited with preserving, protecting, and restoring millions of pieces of artwork, sculptures, and other cultural artifacts in Europe during World War II. Ettlinger, a German Jew whose family fled to the United States to escape the Nazis, is one of the few surviving "Monuments Men." He joined the U.S. Army in August 1944, and became part of the "Monuments Men" in 1945 because of his German language skills.

"My friend Harry Ettlinger and the 349 other 'Monuments Men' are truly heroes who did their duty and saved our cultural heritage," said Sen. Menendez. "We owe them our thanks and the world owes them a great debt of gratitude. The 'Monuments Men' certainly impacted history and culture in acts of heroism that will long be remembered.

Late last year,senior staff members for Sen. Menendez delivered a letter from the Senator to the Rockaway resident along with a copy of the proposed legislation.

The bill is sponsored by U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (MO) and has 77 cosponsors, and was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Representatives Kay Granger (TX) and Michael Capuano (MA).

Additional Background on the Monuments Men: The Monuments Men served in the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section of the Western Allied military effort. They were initially charged with protecting structures, such as churches, museums, and monuments, from destruction. Their responsibilities later shifted to recovering art and artifacts stolen by Nazis across Europe. Today, there are only five living members of the Monuments Men. Works from many of Europe's major artists - including Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and Pablo Picasso - were plundered by the Nazis and added to their private collections. Some of the notable pieces preserved by the Monuments Men include Leonardo da Vinci'sThe Last Supper,Jan Van Eyck'sGhent Altarpieceand Michelangelo'sDavidandMadonna and Child. By 1951, they had recovered or restored nearly five million cultural artifacts. In 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Roberts Commission to help the U.S. Army protect cultural works in Allied occupied areas. General Dwight Eisenhower told his commanders that "inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve," and he ordered his commanders to safeguard those treasures. The story served as inspiration for the recent film, "The Monuments Men."