Delaware man inspiration behind "The Monuments Men"

MILFORD, Del. - February 18, 2014

The Allies of World War II suspected that the Germans were hiding their gold and other treasures, amassed during the bloody victories of the 'Third Reich' but no one knew where.

It was Private 1st Class Richard C. Mootz, of Delaware, who first disclosed the secret after befriending two local women.

"They decided to tell me, which everybody around knew, that gold was brought in and put down the mine," said Mootz.

Mootz was 19, a member of a civil control squad in the German town of Merkers.

The civilians said that the Nazi spoils of war were buried deep in the local salt mine.

The women Mootz met lived near the childhood home of his mother, who was French, and told him about the treasures hidden in the vaults below the mine. He reported it to division headquarters.

"And the day after, allied exhibitionary forces, Eisenhower, Patton and Hodges, that whole bunch, they came," he said.

The U.S. Third Army found gold, silver and priceless artwork.

"And then it was loaded and hauled to Frankford. It took 32 10-ton GI trucks to haul the stuff," said Mootz.

For four decades there's been no documentation of Mootz's discovery, but now the Army's report on it is declassified and mentions Mootz's name and story.

"I felt sure that it was in the records but they kept that stuff all hidden," said Mootz.

If Mootz hadn't made the salt mine discovery, no doubt it would have fallen into the hands of the Russians. Instead the treasure was dispersed among the allies.

Mootz says he hasn't seen "The Monuments Men" yet but he plans to. He also adds that he's thankful that his role in the historic discovery is finally being recognized.

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