The Monuments Men

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James Alexander Reeds ( 1921-2012 )

An accomplished linguist and professor, James Alexander Reeds was born on November 16, 1921 in Kansas City, Missouri. He was a pre-medical student at the University of Iowa before his studies were put on hold with the United States’ entry into World War II.

Reeds enlisted in the U.S. Army in July 1942. His many years studying German in high school and college made him a fitting candidate for the Army Specialist Training Program at Stanford University, where he underwent extensive training as a German interpreter. He joined the MFAA in France in 1944. Following the German surrender, Reeds was stationed in Wiesbaden and at Headquarters of the U.S. Forces, European Theater (USFET) in Frankfurt-Hoechst, Germany. As chief clerk for the office, he responded to incoming messages regarding artworks and monuments and managed paperwork for Monuments Officers Lt. Cdr. George L. Stout, Maj. Bancel La Farge, and Capt. Edith A. Standen. Following his discharge from the U.S. Army in late 1946, Reeds remained in Germany as a medical supply officer for the military government as a civilian employee.

During his service as a Monuments Man, Reeds met his wife, Hedwig Neumann. A native of Vienna, Hedwig had fled Nazi persecution at the beginning of the war. Seeking refuge in England, she worked for the U.S. Civil Censorship Division in Germany after the war. The couple soon fell in love, marrying in Guildford, England in 1946.

Following his return to the United States in early 1947, Reeds resumed his studies at the University of Iowa, where he earned two degrees in German. He then spent two years as a high school teacher in Fargo, Oklahoma before completing two graduate degrees in linguistics from University of Michigan (in 1959 and 1967, respectively). The rest of his career was devoted to teaching the next generation of scholars. A gifted linguist, he lectured at the Pennsylvania State University- Altoona, the University of Michigan, and the University of Detroit. He was an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and associate professor of linguistics at the University of Missouri- Kansas City. Reeds never abandoned his own pursuit of knowledge. He was awarded Fulbright grants to teach in Detmold, Germany in 1956 and at the University of Lodz in Poland in 1984.

Reeds retired from the University of Missouri- Kansas City as Associate Professor Emeritus in 1990. Rather than settling down to a simple retirement, however, he became all the more active, volunteering as a docent at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and joining several theater groups and choirs. He participated in, and won, marathons all over the United States and Europe well into his sixties.

James Reeds died on October 3, 2012.