Army Colonel Who Recovered Art Treasures Dead at 86
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) _ Retired Col. Ralph E. Pearson, who during the closing days of World War II helped recover a cache of European art treasures stolen by the Nazis, has died of injuries suffered in an auto accident. He was 86.
Pearson, who was a journalism instructor and author after his 30-year Army career, died Monday at Brackenridge Hospital, as did his wife, Clarice, an artist at the University of Texas. She was 82.
They were injured Dec. 18 when their car spun out of control.
During the last week of the war, Pearson led a group of men into a village in the Austrian Alps to reclaim a treasure trove of masterpieces that the Nazis had looted during their march through Europe.
Included were works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, Michelangelo and Goya.
Among the paintings were the entire collection of Italy’s Monte Cassino Abbey. Also recovered were works from the church of Notre Dame of Bruges, the St. Florian Monasteries and the Ghent altar, and the complete Rothschild collection.
At the time, the artworks were estimated to be worth $500 million.
In addition, the task force recovered Adolf Hitler’s personal library and took into custody Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a Gestapo chief who became one of the chief defendants in the Nuremberg trials.
Pearson wrote about the mission in a five-volume history of World War II, ″En Route to the Redoubt.″
Pearson, who earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in 1950, taught at St. Edward’s University in Austin from 1965 to 1967. During the 1960s he wrote a column for the Austin American-Statesman.
Pearson is survived by two daughters and a son.