The Dragon

I have been here before, in the dark, years ago. 
We slipped, silently hugging the coastline 
Like a great metal dragon 
To ready ourselves, To strike, 
For the moment when the dragon would rise up and roar, 
Spewing out fire, heat , smoke and death 
Upon an unseen enemy in a never ending battle. 
The heat and sweat covers my brow in the early moments. 
To anticipate what is to come in the dark of early morning. 
Not wanting to kill, yet unwilling to die. 
With no way out - no alternatives, but to let the dragon strike.
Quiet moments before the storm. 
Within myself, within the dragon's belly. 
Rights, wrongs and regrets hang in the still night air 
Pain is in my guts and my heart shows on my face 
No secrets here, only these dark moments before the violence, 
before the thunder. 
Then... the sky opens and the shoreline is bright with dragon's breath. 
Our ship is shaken with each strike. 
The recoil, the smell of gunpowder, the awesome power of the dragon is felt to the soul -- 
sights and sounds that fill the years and cannot be forgotten.
Does the dragon remember? 
Do the people recall the raining thunder and fire? 
Were they the enemy or were we?  Or is the enemy within?
Yes I was there, in the darkness, years ago. 
Now in the darkness of a hospital room. The sights and sounds come alive once more. 
The sweat on my brow soaks my pillow.   In the quiet before the storm, 
sounds of metal trays and metal wheels on polished floors, 
the pain in my guts and my heart still remains. 
Fighting an unseen enemy in a never ending battle. 
Lying in the dark., anticipating what is to come, 
not wanting to die. There is no way out and no alternatives.
Quiet moments before the storm, in a hospital bed at the end of the hall. 
In the darkness within myself, regrets,  rights and wrongs hang 
in the still night air. 
No secrets here, only fear in the dark moments, 
I have been here in the darkness before. 

I am now a veteran of two wars. 
I wait now in the dark.  The battle will begin anew. 
No medals here -- no heroes. 
Heroes are those who endure, those who fight, not for nations,
but for life and loved ones. 
The enemy is within now.  Perhaps it has always been so.
Seeds planted years ago are now growing. 
Along with the rain of thunder we unleashed, we poured dioxin on the enemy, 
to take the life from their land. 
Now is the time to pay for our mistakes. 
Wounded by a bullet fired years ago on a hot summer night, 
sweat on my brow and fear in my heart, 
and a war still rages in my memory, my heart and my blood. 
Perhaps in the darkness, in the quiet before the storm, we can find answers 
to questions we never asked.. 
Perhaps others will come to see the wounds suffered so long ago and realize 
that we are a result of a war gone wrong. 
Remember us as veterans who served and ultimately gave our all
for the country we love. 
I am more than a cancer patient. 
I am a veteran wounded in action by a bullet that missed organs but 
struck my soul -- 
a wound that surgeons cannot fix and time cannot heal. 
Acknowledge us. 
Do not let us die in vain. 

Nelson C. Hughes

Mr. Hughes, a member of the Vietnam War In Memory Memorial, Inc. advisory board, is undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma linked to his wartime service experience.

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