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CNN

Randy Kaye

Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Vermeer -- these masterpieces grace the walls of museums today but might have been lost forever if not for the work of a group nicknamed Monuments Men.

"The Monuments Men and Women are my heroes. They're -- it's a group of men and women, about 350 or so, museum directors, curators, art historians that volunteered for service during World War II and ultimately were involved in the leadership of what I refer to as the greatest treasure hunt in history, trying to find the great works of art throughout Europe, hidden in more than a thousand hiding places."

Robert Edsel uncovered the story at a crossroads in his own life. In the late 1990s, Edsel sold the oil and gas company he built in Texas and decided to take a break from work. He moved his family to Italy to renovate a villa, study art, and discover his next passion. Little did he know it would find him on a bridge in Florence.