The Monuments Men

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Dale Vinton Ford ( 1919-1979 )

Born in 1919, Dale Vinton Ford spent his childhood working on his family’s dairy farm in rural Lowell, Michigan. He soon developed a love for furniture design, graduating first in his class from what is now Kendall School of Design in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Following his degree in architecture from the University of Michigan, Ford returned to Kendall as an instructor and assistant to the school’s President in 1940. By the time of his enlistment in 1942, he had risen to the post of Head of the Furniture Department at Kendall.

In September 1942, Ford enlisted in the United States Army and was commissioned as a Strategic Camouflage Officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in early 1943. He served primarily in North Africa but was also deployed to Brazil, Corsica, France, Germany and Austria. In Algiers, Ford was at the center of a 1943 counter-intelligence project designed to trick the Germans into believing the Allied landings would take place at Calais rather than Normandy. Ford’s architectural experience was essential to the detailed design and construction of the plot’s central stratagem.

At the end of the war, Ford was transferred to the European Civil Affairs Division and chosen as an MFAA Specialist Officer for the Wuerttemberg-Baden region of Germany. Assigned to U.S. Seventh Army in August 1945, Ford was named Officer-in-charge at the Kochendorf-Heilbronn salt mines in Germany. Together with Monuments Man Pvt. Harry Ettlinger, he worked to separate Nazi-looted works of art from those that had been evacuated for safety from Germany’s finest museums, including those in Karlsruhe, Mannheim and Stuttgart. To aid in his work sorting through some nine hundred objects stashed away among the mines’ maze of passageways and caverns, Ford pored over the archives of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg, the principal Nazi looting organization, in a small office next to the elevator shaft.

The first restitution out of Heilbronn contained seventy-three cases of stained glass from Strasbourg Cathedral in France, which had been removed for safekeeping before the war and subsequently looted by the Nazis. Direct orders from General Dwight D. Eisenhower made the carefully orchestrated return of this important cultural treasure a first priority as a gesture of good faith between the United States and France. The five-truck convoy arranged to ferry the windows home departed Heilbronn in mid-September 1945. Upon the windows’ reinstallation, the people of Strasbourg celebrated in the streets, for their colorful treasures had returned home intact.

While still stationed in Germany, Ford accepted the position of President of the Kendall School of Design in April 1946. He remained in that post until 1952, when he resigned to become Staff Designer and later Chief of Design for the joint furniture design firms of John Widdicomb Company and William A. Berkey Company. His furniture designs won many awards including the Editor’s Choice Award of the National Home Fashions League of New York for a complete collection of authentic reproductions of eighteenth-century colonial furniture. Ford opened his own freelance design firm in 1963 before retiring in 1974. In addition to serving as a member of the American Designer’s Institute and the Friends of American Art, Ford served on the Board of Trustees for multiple institutions including the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Kent County Council of Historic Preservation, and the Heritage Hill Association of Grand Rapids.

Dale Ford passed away on September 11, 1979. Today, his architectural designs can be seen in the construction of the World War II Memorial at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan.