The Monuments Men

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Chief Yeoman Terence A. Coyne ( 1910-2001 )

Terence Augustine Coyne was born in Bridgeport, Ohio on August 4, 1910. While he never received a college degree, he was gifted with a photographic memory and an extraordinary knack for arithmetic and languages. For many years, he took night classes in mathematics, public speaking, and French at the University of Cincinnati. He also completed correspondence courses in accounting and business English.

Prior to military service, Coyne worked a series of administrative jobs. In addition to a short period as a sheet metal worker, he worked as a payroll clerk with the Civil Works Administration of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration from 1933 to 1935. From 1935 to 1939 he worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), first as payroll supervisor and later as chief timekeeper. From 1939 to 1942 he was employed as a railway mail clerk with the U.S. Railway Mail Service in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Coyne enlisted in the U.S. Navy on October 16, 1942 as a Yeoman 2nd class. He was called to duty on November 22nd. Combined with his fluency in French, Spanish, and Italian, his many years of clerical experience qualified Coyne for a position with the Office of Naval Intelligence. He trained at the Foreign Service School of the Office of Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C. before sailing for North Africa on March 3, 1943. Upon arrival in Oran, Algeria, he was assigned as yeoman to the Officer in Charge of the Joint Army-Navy Intelligence Collection Agency (JICA) in Algiers, the capital of Algeria. There, he transcribed field reports and helped his officer in charge establish contacts with the French government, the French and British admiralties, and the American headquarters in Algiers. From October 1943 to September 1944 he served as yeoman to the Officer in Charge, Naval Intelligence Unit, U.S. Eighth Fleet, and was promoted to Yeoman 1st class. After the relocation of U.S. Naval Intelligence headquarters to Naples, Italy in July 1944, Coyne was placed in charge of organizing all intelligence reports and correspondences, and translating numerous French and Italian intelligence documents.

In September 1944 Coyne fell ill with malaria and returned home to the Unites States on a hospital ship. Following his recovery, he was placed on convalescent leave and served temporary duty at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois. During this time, he was able to reunite with his wife, who he had not seen for nineteen months, and meet his baby son for the first time.

In March 1945 Coyne was transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) X-2 Branch (counterintelligence) and assigned to the Orion Project, the codename for the Art Looting Investigation Unit (ALIU). He had been earmarked for the position by the chief of the ALIU, Monuments Man Lt. James S. Plaut. Coyne and Plaut had met while both were engaged in Naval Intelligence operations in North Africa. Plaut had remembered Coyne’s impressively fast typing and skill at writing shorthand. Coyne completed OSS Training school on March 31, 1945 and departed Washington for ALIU Headquarters in London on June 10, 1945.

Formed in November 1944, the ALIU acted as the intelligence component to the MFAA. Its two-fold mission was to uncover information to be used in the restitution of looted art in Europe and to amass evidence for the prosecution of Nazi leaders at the postwar Nuremberg trails. In addition to Plaut, the unit also included Monuments Men Lt. Cdr. S. Lane Faison, Jr. and Lt. Theodore Rousseau, Jr. Each of these three officers was tasked with the in-depth investigation of one of the three most important Nazi looting programs: the activities of the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR) in France (Lt. Plaut), the collection of Hermann Göring (Lt. Rousseau), and the collection of Adolf Hitler intended for his massive Führermuseum in Linz, Austria (Lt. Cdr. Faison).

To accomplish this enormous responsibility, the ALIU established a detention center in Alt Aussee, Austria near the salt mine where the Nazis had hidden looted treasures including Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna and Van Eyck’s Ghent Altarpiece. From June 1945 until the spring of 1946, Faison, Plaut, and Rousseau detained and interrogated hundreds of Nazi officials and collaborators on the whereabouts of looted works of art. These included Walter Andreas Hofer (Director of the Goering Collection and Goering’s chief purchasing agent), Gustav Rochlitz (Nazi art dealer), Bruno Lohse (Deputy Chief of the ERR), and Gunther Schiedlausky (ERR official).

Coyne arrived in Alt Aussee as Administrative Assistant to Chief, Orion Project on June 22, 1945. As part of his duties as Lt. Plaut’s assistant, he transcribed interrogation notes, put them in an orderly sequence, and assisted in the preparation of final reports to be sent to Washington, London, and later to the War Crimes Commission in preparation for the Nuremberg Trials. Coyne also assisted in the administration of the detention center, where he came into contact with the most notorious Nazi suspects and informants. He later joked that he and Hermann Goering shared the same personal secretary, Gisela Limberger, after she offered to assist him in transcribing German documents while being held for interrogation in mid-September 1945.

The intelligence reports resulting from the efforts of Coyne and the ALIU dismantled the complex web of Nazi looting and greatly expedited the restitution process for millions of looted works of art and cultural objects. The Orion Project detention center in Alt Aussee was closed in September 1945 and the OSS was abolished soon after. After completing all remaining reports and administrative duties at headquarters in London, Coyne left Europe in December 1945.

After returning home to the United States, Coyne worked for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and later the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). He also spent time in Saigon (today Ho Chi Minh City), Vietnam as a representative of the U.S. State Department working to assist the South Vietnamese government in establishing a tax collection system. Due to his success in Vietnam, he undertook similar trips with the State Department in multiple countries in South America. For the duration of his life, he remained fascinated with foreign languages. By the end of his life, he had become proficient in eight languages.

Terry Coyne died in West Virginia on June 6, 2001.