The Monuments Men

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Richard Pingree Merrill ( 1923-2014 )

Richard Pingree Merrill was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts on December 31, 1923. A gifted student, he was valedictorian of his high school class before entering Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont. In February 1943, just one year into his degree, Merrill postponed his studies to enlist in the U.S. Army. Due to his proficiency in German, he qualified for an advanced language course at Ohio State University as part of the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP).

During World War II, Merrill served as a German interpreter. In September 1945 he received an assignment with the Regierungsbezirk Oberbayern Section of the Office of Military Government for Bavaria (an administrative district which included Munich). Working alongside Monuments Man Capt. Jonathan T. Morey, Merrill conducted inspections of dozens of Bavarian churches and castles, many of which contained the collections of German museums evacuated for safekeeping at the beginning of the war. These two Monuments Men were responsible for the discovery of tapestries, statues, and 400 paintings belonging to the Lenbach Galerie and the Staedtische Galerie in Munich found at Schloss Hohenaschau, as well as dozens of cases of books from the University of Munich at Palace Staufeneck.

Merrill continued to locate looted property in Germany until December 1945, when he returned to the United States. He was able to apply credits from his wartime training toward his degree at Middlebury College, which he completed in 1946. Merrill then traveled to Mexico, using the G.I. Bill to earn a master’s degree in Spanish at the Escuela Universitaria de Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende. Mexico remained close to Merrill’s heart for the rest of his life: he would later return to direct the Sierra Madre International School of Poetry in Guanajuato, teach with the Phillips Academy “Man and Society” program, as well as many study abroad courses and travel groups.

A respected authority on foreign languages, Merrill hosted workshops, wrote textbooks, and planned curricula dealing with Spanish, French, and German. In addition to furthering his own studies at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico and Emory University in Atlanta, Merrill served as a lecturer or professor at colleges across the country. He was Chairman of the Foreign Language Department at Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford, Massachusetts, supervisor of foreign languages for Waltham Public Schools in Waltham, Massachusetts, and Academic Director of the Instituto Moderno de Lenguas Extranjeras in Mexico.

Merrill was a member of the Massachusetts Advisory Council for Foreign Languages and the National Foreign Language Society, President of the New England Chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, and President of the Massachusetts Group of the New England Modern Language Association.

Richard Merrill died in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on January 25, 2014.