for Chester Merrill
American Cemetery, Nancy, France
We had crossed the river in those small boats
and as we ran toward the wall I was hit
and the medics, without hope, carried me to the command post
and laid me among my
They say where we crossed the river
there is a salt mine and that they found
thousands of paintings and other things unimaginable.
There was a Rembrandt among the paintings
and the ancient stained-glass windows, 12th to 14th centuries,
from the cathedral at Strasbourg.
The Nazi officers had orders
to destroy it all, the so-called Nero Decree,
but in the confusion of our attack
the miners prevented the mine from being destroyed
and an American officer who knew of the treasures
appeared at the mine in time to keep it from flooding
and everything was saved.
I wish that as I lay there among my comrades
we had known of the Rembrandt
and those windows.