Wayback Wednesday is a weekly series featuring historical figures with a record of military service and a connection to the arts.

This week features Chicagoan and member of the WWII Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) program, Richard Barancik.

An army is a complicated thing, with many different roles to play and not all impacts on civilian life easily foreseen. In 1943, with WWII in full swing, a group of men and women with unique training were given a special task. Their unique skills were in the arts and preservation, and their task was to safeguard (and sometimes find, if they had been relocated during the German occupation) cultural monuments across Europe.

War in the 20th century was, to put it mildly, hugely messy. And Europe, particularly without its current modern infrastructure, was a fairly big place with lots of art and monuments for the 400 individuals of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (also known as the ‘Monuments Men’) program to track down and protect. It was not perhaps the most heroic posting in the army, but the members of the MFAA were dedicated to what they did. They provided intelligence to army and air force officers that allowed them to, as possible, minimize damage to museums, monuments, and structures of historic significance. Far from using the their posting to hang back, MFAA personnel often arrived in liberated communities just after the Germans had left and before allied troops entered. Captain Walter J. Huchthausen, who was killed by gunfire while trying to salvage an altarpiece, and Major Ronald Balfour, killed by a shellburst while scouting for hidden artworks beyond allied lines, are symbolic of their dedication.

At the age of 18, Chicagoan Richard Barancik joined the Army Enlisted Reserve Corps in December of 1942. In 1943 he attended the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and attended basic engineering courses at the University of Nebraska. In 1944, he was sent to Europe with the 66th Army Division. Originally headed for the Battle of the Bulge, the 66th was instead sent to besiege the German fortifications at St. Nazaire after 700 soldiers were lost when their transport ship, the SS. Leopoldville, was torpedoed. Barancik then headed to Southern France before being reassigned to Austria, where he came across the MFAA cataloging, archiving, and repairing caches of art hidden by the Nazi leadership. He immediately volunteered for service with the MFAA and was accepted. Barancik recalled later that, “When I arrived in Salzburg, I was not only overwhelmed by the beauty of the town but the quality of the men in the Fine Arts Section. They were typically older and very well educated in the Fine Arts.” Following the war, Barancik would manage to pile up achievements worthy of the company he had been keeping. Barancik studied architecture at the University of Cambridge in 1946 and at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts at Fontainebleau, France in 1947. He received his Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Bachelor of Science in General Studies at the University of Illinois in 1948. From 1950 to 1993, he enjoyed a long and prosperous career as a prominent Chicago architect.

Other, similarly motivated and talented members of the MFAA went on to help found the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Ballet along with a slew of smaller museums and institutions across Europe and the United States. An outcome from the chaos of WWII no less welcome for being so unexpected. War is, after all, as much (if not more) what is protected as who you fight. And Barancik and the other members of the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program exemplify this in their unusual service during WWII. They probably deserved a better movie than the 2014 Monuments Men. I recommend the book Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert Edsel, which is much better, if you would like to learn more.

“There are three deaths. The first is when the body ceases to function. The second is when the body is consigned to the grave.
The third is that moment, sometime in the future, when your name is spoken for the last time. “

-David M. Eagleman, Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives

Sergeant Brian J. Leonhardt
Merrillville, IN
Operation Enduring Freedom – January 6th, 2012

“Brian Leonhardt will always be remembered as a soldier who gave of himself unconditionally for others and his country. No surprise, as he began that trend in high school: giving himself for others, his school, and his team.” –Coach Phil Santaguida

As a high school basketball player, Brian set the school record for taking charges. In pursuit of that record, Brian had to set both feet and defend his basket in the face of an oncoming offensive player. He worked hard to perfect the stance and got knocked to the floor countless times.  He received many scrapes, bruises, and even a permanent “fat lip” while helping his team to an undefeated season that year and on to a championship. He loved his team, and he gave himself for them.

As a brother to seven siblings, he was the family goofball. He established himself early as the family storyteller with his big, baby blue eyes, hilarious facial expressions, and his flair for relaying a great tale. As he got older, his quick wit and even quicker tongue was always ready for a laugh, usually at the expense of his siblings. “We always knew that if we needed a hand, we could call Brian. Whether it was a call in the pouring rain for help changing a tire on the side of the road or an early-Saturday-morning call from a sister who needed him to cart home a “bargain” recliner in his truck for her after he’d worked late the night before, he would be there to help. He was a devoted uncle to his nieces and nephews. He spoiled them with gifts and attention—always affectionate and patient.” said his sister, Theresa Leonhardt Stoneback

His younger sister, Jackie Leonhardt said, “Brian was an amazing big brother! He was funny, smart, caring, and extremely over protective! He always made time for the people he loved… I remember one night when I was 18, I came home from work and he asked me to go outside with him…he opened the tailgate on his truck, and we just sat there…looking up at the sky…he showed me all the constellations he could see. He taught me how to shoot a basketball, he would spend hours with us shooting hoops, the many rides in the truck…whatever we were doing, he was making us laugh. He was an amazing person. And he is still missed dearly.”

Brian loved Nutella, the Heat basketball team, Oakleys, guns, and his collection of gym shoes. But he really loved his sweetheart, Dianne. He proposed in July of 2011. On a September day a couple of months later, they quietly married, telling only a few people. They were planning a big ceremony when he returned after his deployment. He loved his family, and he gave of himself for them.

Before Brian even graduated high school, he knew he wanted to be in the Army National Guard. Three of his older brothers were serving or had served in the National Guard, and he was so proud to be a combat engineer. He loved being a soldier. One of the last posts on his social media was: “A hero is someone who has given his/her life to something bigger than oneself.” He is truly our hero.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:13

Fallen Friday is a weekly series which highlights the story of a fallen service member,
so that their name and story continues to live on.

Wayback Wednesday is a weekly series featuring historical figures with a record of military service and a connection to the arts.

This week features big-band leader, Glenn Miller.

When Glenn Miller broke through onto the music scene in 1938, he was already 34 years old and had spent years on the big band circuit without achieving the success he craved. Finally having landed on a unique sound and assembled the right band members to deliver on his arrangements, his Glenn Miller Orchestra landed a new contract with Bluebird Recording and was able to book a series of prominent live shows. To say they became famous is an understatement; between 1939 and 1942, Miller would log 17 number one records and 59 top ten hits. For those keeping score at home, the Beatles had 33 top ten hits, and Elvis Presley had 38. In 1942, however, Miller was determined to set aside his hard won fame and contribute to the war effort. At the peak of his fame and earning between $15,000 to $20,000 per week, which would still be pretty fantastic in 2019, Miller first had to find a way to get into a then-hard-pressed military wary of more bad press.

At 38, Miller was too old to be drafted and so sought to volunteer his services. He first offered his services to the Navy, who turned him down. Changing tack, he wrote to Army Brigadier General Charles Young and asked to “be placed in charge of a modernized army band.” On October 8, 1942 he reported for duty in Omaha, NE for service with the Seventh Service Command in the Army Specialist Corps. Miller quickly set to work revolutionizing the army band, with his fame and the war effort paving the way past unhappy traditionalists. Based in New Haven, CT and then New York City, Miller and his band performed a weekly radio broadcast entitled I Sustain the Wings. In 1944 he won permission to form his 50 piece Army Air Force band and take it to England, where they gave over 800 performances. While there, Miller and his band recorded a series of their songs in German for use on propaganda broadcasts. 

On December 15th, 1944 Miller boarded a small plane headed for Paris, scouting ahead as he planned for the City of Lights to be the next stop for his AAF band. Despite his distance from the front, Miller had had his close calls already. After a bomb landed within three blocks of his offices in London he was persuaded to relocate, as it does not do to have the enemy blow up your morale effort. The day after leaving, a V-1 flying bomb struck the building, killing 70. Now, with bad weather closing in, Miller’s flight disappeared over the channel. Wreckage was never found, leading to years of conspiracy theories. The UC-64 Norseman he had been flying aboard had a carburetor that was notorious for icing up in cold weather. He was 40 years old, and left behind a wife and two adopted children. They accepted the posthumously awarded Bronze Star on his behalf.

Miller’s musical work continued to have an impact down through the years, often inspiring (and being imitated by) other artists. Former band members formed a ghost band, dedicated to performing Miller’s work. After a few fits and starts, with disagreements between former band members, in 1956 an official ghost band ‘stuck.’ The band is still touring the United States today, a testament to Miller’s lasting popularity and enduring musical contributions. While Miller’s AAF Band was disbanded in 1945, its influence can be felt throughout the armed forces to this day. After WWII, most branches added a jazz band to their concert and marching bands. Music remains an important part of the American military tradition to this day. Miller would have had it no other way, stating in one of the propaganda recordings that, “America means freedom and there’s no expression of freedom quite so sincere as music.”