Col. Ralph E. Pearson
Born Christmas Day 1904 in Tipp City, Ohio, to Rufus and Clara Pearson, Ralph Emerson Pearson would go on to have a long illustrious career first in the military and then in education. He graduated with a BS from Denison University in 1927, and married his first wife Helen in 1930. Not much is known about his life pre-war, but we do know that before being called up, he was working for Armco Steel in Middletown, Ohio, where he was also serving on the City Commission as chairman.
He had served as a member of the Operational Response Command for 13 years and was called into active duty with the Coast Artillery Corps on 1st January 1943. He was assigned to an anti-aircraft outfit, and served at the Siege of Bastogne, during the Battle of the Bulge, Belgium.
By the time the war ended, Ralph Pearson was a Major with the 80th Division when he received a tip from a Hungarian prisoner that certain crown jewels were hidden in a salt mine in Alt Aussee. By the 8th May 1945, Task Force Pearson, as it was called, had occupied the mine for its protection. He was there to escort Monuments Man Captain Robert Posey below the surface, and there they discovered an estimated $500 million worth of art, including the entire collection of Monte Cassino, the personal library of Hitler, art from St Florian Monasteries, the Ghent Altarpiece, and the Rothschild collection.
His unit would also go on to capture 33 Nazi officials, including Gestapo officer Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who had been hiding out in a nearby mountain redoubt. Ernst Kaltenbrunner was executed as a war criminal at the Nuremburg trials, and Maj. Pearson was later awarded the Bronze Star for his services.
After returning to the United States, Pearson received a Master’s in Journalism from the University of Missouri in 1950. He continued to serve in the army, including in the Korean War, and became a Colonel in 1954. After a 30-year career in the military, he retired, becoming a journalism instructor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, as well as writing a column for the Austin American-Statesman. He also wrote about his missions in Germany in a five-volume history of 318th Regimental Combat Team, “En Route to the Redoubt”.
After the death of his first wife Helen in 1980, he got married to Clarice Lucile Skeels, an artist at the University of Texas. Tragically they were both killed in a car accident in Austin. He passed on the January 7th 1991, and was survived by three children.