Monuments ManMotoko Fujishiro Huthwaite

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Born in Boston, Mass., to Japanese immigrant parents. After Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor when she was 14, Motoko, her mother, and her brother were deported to Japan. Her father, a Harvard professor, was sent to an internment camp in Montana, and then deported a year later. In June 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the “American Commission for the Protection and Salvage of Artistic and Historic Monuments in War Areas”, which worked to identify areas of cultural significance and direct bombers to avoid them. As the Commission attracted members from other countries, they coalesced into a team of 345 people from 13 countries called the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section, or MFAA, unit, under the auspices of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies. Their mission: find, repair, and return cultural treasures looted by Nazi Germany. There were more than 1,000 caches containing as many as 5 million pieces of artwork and cultural items stolen from wealthy Jews, museums, universities, and religious institutions. Of the 345 people on the team, 27 were women — and Fujishiro was one of them. Her ability to speak both Japanese and English fluently was critical to the MFAA’s work in the Pacific, and she reported directly to Lt. Commander George L. Stout, the MFAA’s co-creator.

Huthwaite during her service in the Pacific (family photo), and (center) at the presentation of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Monuments Men on May 19, 2014, “in recognition of their heroic role in the preservation, protection, and restitution of monuments, works of art, and artifacts of cultural importance during and following” World War II. (Photo, right: Monuments Men Foundation, click to see larger.)

The Allied Supreme Commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, cooperated with the MFAA by forbidding looting, destruction, and occupation of structures of cultural significance, and ordered his forces to assist the MFAA as much as possible. “Prior to this war, no army had thought of protecting the monuments of the country in which and with which it was at war,” said Lt. Col. Sir Leonard Woolley, a British archaeologist from the MFAA. “The good name of the Army depended in great measure on the respect which it showed to the art heritage of the modern world.” The team’s work was depicted in the 2014 film, The Monuments Men, as they came to be called by soldiers. The women that served on the team were also typically called “Monuments Men”. In 2015, three of the six then-surviving Monuments Men traveled to Washington D.C. to be presented with the Congressional Gold Medal. Motoko was front and center.

After the war, Huthwaite was accepted at Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Mass., to fulfill a lifelong dream. With a degree in English, she taught at the American School in Japan, and then moved with her mother to South Carolina to be near her brother. She completed a master’s degree in education from the University of South Carolina in 1967, and married William Ernest Cecil Huthwaite, an officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II, in 1971. She went on to earn a doctorate in elementary curriculum and instruction at Wayne State University in Michigan in 1974, and remained in Michigan to teach. “I spent 30 years of my life as a teacher,” she told the Monuments Men Foundation. “Elementary, high school, college, and grad school. I liked 4th grade the best.” Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite died in Michigan on May 4, from COVID-19. She was 92. There is only one Monument Man still alive.

From This is True for 10 May 2020