Memorial Day honors those who died in service to our country, but it’s also a great time to pause and remember all our family members who are no longer with us who served in the military.
Today I have a special guest to tell you the unusual role his grandfather played in World War II.
I’ll also tell you what one woman did to honor her military family, including a POW who spent almost a year in a North Korean prison.
My guest today is my dear husband, Charlie.
Charlie’s grandfather was in his 40’s during World War II and past the age of being drafted but in spite of having a position of influence and a life of relative ease, he volunteered for military service. Here’s Charlie to tell us his grandfather’s story…
My grandfather, Charles R. Sattgast, was a well-established college president in the early 1940s, but he took a leave of absence in 1943 to take a commission in the US Army as an officer in the Allied Military Government for Occupied Territories, which helped provide governmental stability as areas of Europe and the Pacific were freed from the control of the Axis powers. Here’s a picture of my grandfather (on the left) holding an American flag at the liberation of France.
Charles, affectionately called C.R. by his friends, was attached to the 101st Airborne and continued his way across Europe after the Normandy invasion, through the Battle of the Bulge, and on to Germany. But upon his arrival in Austria at the end of the war he was transferred to the Monuments Fine Arts and Archives section—what is now commonly referred to as the Monuments Men.
The work of the Monuments Men was truly amazing. It was the first time, probably in human history, that an army intentionally worked to preserve an enemy’s cultural monuments and structures, such as churches, statues, and art, and then worked diligently to return stolen works of art and other cultural treasures to their original owners. The Monuments Men were responsible for returning over five million items stolen by the Nazis from all over Europe.
My grandfather’s assignment was cataloging, packing, and repatriating the Nazi stash in and around Fischhorn Castle in Austria, which included much of the artwork taken from Poland by the Nazis, and the restitution of the Polish national archives.
For his work he was elected to lifetime membership in the Warsaw Academy of Science. That’s the same honor given to famed nuclear physicist Madame Marie Curie. Pretty cool!
In 2015 the Monuments Men were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their amazing work in World War II.
I’m proud of the work my grandfather did during the war.
My father and uncle also had interesting WWII stories. My father served in the Merchant Marine, which was actually a dangerous tour of duty as Liberty ships transported supplies around the world to our troops throughout the war. Many of these merchant ships were sunk by hostile submarines and many merchant seaman did not survive the war.
After the war my uncle was part of the Berlin Air Lift that carried critical supplies to West Berlin behind the Iron Curtain from 1948 to 1949. Both men had great stories that are fascinating to me and I know will be fascinating to my descendants as well.
By the way, if you haven’t read Robert Edsel’s excellent book, The Monuments Men, I highly recommend you do. It is a fascinating book that tells one of the most encouraging stories of World War II.
Special thanks to Charlie Sattgast for sharing these interesting stories! We’re grateful that your dad and grandfather and uncle all came home alive, as did my own father.
That wasn’t the case for many soldiers, and other soldiers endured months or years as Prisoners Of War.
One woman in our Family History Hero community, Jan Osthus Kaplan, had a cousin who was a prisoner of war in North Korea for almost a year. It made such a impact on her that she has researched and gathered the information, photos, and memorabilia to write and publish a book about his ordeal, as well as a book about the military service of many members of her family. What a great example for all of us!
This Memorial Day weekend would be a great time to remember those who served and to document the stories of their military service for future generations.
Let me know in the comments below if you have a unique or interesting family military story you’d like to share. We’d love to hear it!
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