Lieutenant from Dansville was among the WWII ‘Monuments Men’

Dansville man was among WWII ‘Monuments Men’

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DANSVILLE, N.Y. — The movie “The Monuments Men” is about American GIs charged with finding and saving priceless works of art stolen by the Nazis in World War II.

One of those men was from our area.

For Veterans Day, chief investigative reporter Berkeley Brean learned that seven decades after he guarded a stolen statue by Michelangelo, his granddaughter was standing next to it.

“I remember this picture of him with this beautiful picture of Madonna and Child, and then me standing there,” said Eileen Kelly. “A little guy from upstate New York had helped save this, and that was really amazing to see.”

Salt Mine, Austria, 1945. Lieutenant William Kelly from Dansville was guarding the Michelangelo statue stolen by the Nazis. A photo shared by his son Pat Kelly shows Lt. Kelly flanking the generals.

Church of Our Lady, Bruges, Belgium, 2023. Eileen Kelly from Brighton stands next to the statue her grandfather helped save.

“And it’s crazy to think that he was my age. and putting myself into his shoes, it’s a little scary, a little daunting,” Kelly said.

“It talks about a bond between generations,” Pat Kelly said of the film.

Pat Kelly said his dad didn’t talk about what he did in the war until the end of his life. And even then, he was humble.

“I remember someone asked him, ‘Were you amazed by seeing all these incredible works of art the first time you went into the salt mine?’ But I remember his response to the question was, ‘I was thinking about where my next meal was coming from,” Pat said.

In 2014, George Clooney directed and starred in “The Monuments Men,: a movie about soldiers like Lt. Kelly. The extras on the DVD included an interview with Lt. Kelly — Clooney flew him out to Hollywood to interview him. It takes his granddaughter back to the church in Belgium.

“I thought of my grandfather. I thought of him standing in front of it and protecting it. And then seeing it all the way here standing in this beautiful cathedral was wonderful,” Eileen Kelly said.

Lt. Kelly passed away in 2018. He and the other Monuments Men saved more than 5 million works of art.