I was a soldier in the Vietnam War. Although I survived while many of my fellow soldiers perished, the war left me scarred and wounded with far-reaching consequences that would greatly affect me later in life. This is the story of how I achieved health and happiness after a hard life of misfortune and debilitating disease due to the ravages of war.
Herbicidal Warfare and Agent Orange
In 1973 at the age of 18, I joined the infantry and fought for my country. For the next three years I fought in numerous campaigns. At one stage I was shot by an enemy soldier. There was also the constant threat of malaria and poisonous mosquitoes.
For several years, nearly 20,000,000 gallons of various chemicals and herbicides were sprayed throughout Vietnam as part of a herbicidal warfare program. Among these, the deadliest was Agent Orange. Known for its damaging environmental impact, Agent Orange—which contains the highly toxic chemical dioxin—also caused major health problems for those exposed to it. It left many soldiers and civilians wracked by disease and poor health.
It was my misfortune to share their fate.
During one campaign in Western Truong Son, my platoon marched through a chemically damaged forest where sweltering conditions forced us to drink water tainted with Agent Orange.
This exposure would severely impact my life later on as I transitioned from soldier to civilian. Instead of leaving the battlefield behind, the chemical harm I suffered followed me for years as diseases plagued me one after another, leaving me hopeless and in chronic pain.
A Difficult Civilian Life
After five years of intense fighting I returned to my hometown as a decorated soldier.
I was only 23 at the time but felt much older. The war had taken a huge toll on my country and its people; I wasn’t the only one to feel the effects of the brutal fighting. I knew I was lucky that I didn’t die or have my body pierced by shrapnel.
I had sacrificed so much and was eager to be a civilian again so that I could have a family and live a normal life.
I decided to go back to school and learn machine manufacturing. I was a promising student and was nominated to the position of class president, where I earned the opportunity to take the electrical exam. I was determined to make a good living for myself but it was at this time that my health problems began to surface, altering my hope for a normal life.
As our country rebuilt, food supplies were very short and rations were few. For long stretches of time my fellow students and I had to subsist on bobo seeds, a poor source of nutrition. As a result of never having enough to eat, my already frail body developed colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, and hemorrhoids. I couldn’t sit down and I had to eat and study while standing.
Then I was diagnosed with hydradenoma, a skin condition related to Agent Orange exposure that made me very uncomfortable.
In an unexpected turn, my graduation thesis was rejected, even though I was an excellent student. I found out later that I was a victim of political maneuvering between two of my teachers. Because of this I could not graduate.
Depressed and deluded, I left school and got a job. In 1984 I got married and through a rare stroke of good fortune my children were spared any symptoms of Agent Orange complications, something that many of my fellow soldiers’ children experienced. I continued to work a menial job and after 20 years I retired, but my meager savings left me and my family with barely enough income to survive.
A year after my retirement the government policy changed, giving retirees a monthly income. However, due to the bad luck that continued to plague me, I didn’t receive any of those benefits. Left with no choice, I again joined the workforce, this time building a career as a mechanical engineer.
As a way to supplement my income I decided to produce and process black tea for export. After investing heavily in a market that had a high chance of success, my dream was crushed. War broke out in the Middle East, making it impossible to sell tea to the overseas market. My business went under.
A Turn for the Worse
Up to this point, despite the health effects due to Agent Orange exposure I was able to function in society and live a relatively normal life. But now, things took a turn for the worse and the latent effects of the exposure began to appear.
I developed polyarthritis and neurodynia (nerve pain). My joints were so painful and swollen that I had to quit my job. I couldn’t even raise my hands or turn my head and I had great difficulty just getting up from my bed. My body felt like it was falling apart and I didn’t know what other symptoms would rear their head as the Agent Orange took its toll.
My doctors prescribed medication for the pain but the medicine caused severe stomach problems due to my colitis. Other medications made me nauseous. At this time I developed a chronic respiratory infection that kept me up coughing all night. On top of that, my vision became blurry from chronic conjunctivitis and I also developed dermatitis.
From here, things only got worse.
At work, I had a mishap where a large iron pipe fell on my head, resulting in a convulsive seizure. From then on I had regular seizures where I would twitch and foam at the mouth. I also contracted Hepatitis B for which I had to take extremely expensive medication. I tried it for a period of time but when I failed to see any improvement I stopped taking it.
By this time I had developed a small tumor on my liver. I also suffered with severe psoriasis and my skin broke out in lesions that covered my entire body. They were itchy and painful and there was no cure. The only treatment was to have the lesions burned off with a laser.
In desperation I turned to Chinese medicine and although I experienced some relief from my symptoms, I was anything but healthy. The Chinese medicine pot was boiling daily and the treatments were long and laborious.
I went from hopeful to desperate to helpless as each new treatment failed. It seemed there was no doctor or medicine that could cure me. My diseases were too many and my health seemed damaged beyond repair. I lost all hope of ever being well or feeling good gain. After so many years of struggle and pain with no relief in sight, I felt my life wasn’t worth living.
A Miracle Appears
Because I had spare time, I went to a nearby park every day where I watched an old man practicing qigong exercises. I copied his movements in the hope that, by some magical chance, these exercises would improve my health.
They had no effect until one day I saw the old man practicing something quite different. He was sitting still in silence on the ground, with his lower legs crossed on top of one another. When I asked him about it he told me that this exercise was the most powerful. He said it was part of a special practice called Falun Dafa, an ancient Chinese spiritual discipline, and that I would benefit from learning it and practising it.
There was something unique about this old man and the energy of the group of people with him in the park, so I decided to try it. I certainly had nothing to lose. They showed me the five exercises—four standing and one sitting—and I began to practice.
I did the Falun Dafa exercises every day from then on, even though some of them were painful and difficult to perform due to my arthritis and joint problems.
In addition to the exercises, the practice emphasizes the cultivation of one’s character and the assimilation to truth, compassion, and tolerance, a philosophy outlined in Zhuan Falun, the main book of Falun Dafa. I studied the book and followed the principles in my thoughts and actions. I began to give up my many negative attachments and strove to be a good person, cultivating my mind according to the teachings.
Even though the exercises were difficult at first, I persevered and within six months many of my diseases began to disappear. I couldn’t believe it at first because I thought I would never find relief. I thought it was my fate to be sick for the rest of my life.
Tears of gratitude fall from my eyes when I think about it now. My epilepsy, colitis, respiratory infections, and arthritis have all disappeared. Now I can eat and drink whatever I want. The tumor on my liver has shrunk to the point that the doctors can barely find it.
The greatest miracle occured when my psoriasis and skin infections almost entirely disappeared. I can be outside without a shirt now, something that I could never have imagined before.
I remember when I was cleaning the house for New Year’s I came across my old medicine cabinet, full of medications and herbs. They were all covered with a layer of dust. It was an incredible moment for me to be able to throw all of those medications away, knowing I would never need them again.
Grateful for a Second Chance at Life
I have not had an easy life but now I have found peace of mind, a treasure that is worth more than anything. I repair electrical appliances to make some extra money, and I work with wounded soldiers. My diet is simple but my body is strong.
I’ve even been performing as an organist with the Veteran Arts Association, something my poor health previously prohibited me from doing. When I play some of the songs written by Falun Dafa practitioners my eyes tear up with gratitude. The practice has lifted me out of a life of illness, suffering, and misery and given me a second chance. Not many people have such an opportunity and I still can hardly believe the many miracles I experienced from this powerful practice.
My sincere wish is to help those who are suffering by telling them about the profound and wonderful benefits of Falun Dafa.
Nguyen Van Bai resides in the city of Yen Bai, Vietnam.
Falun Dafa is a cultivation practice of mind and body that teaches truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance as a way to improve health and moral character and attain spiritual wisdom.
For more information about the practice, visit www.falundafa.org. All books, exercise music, resources, and instructions are available free of charge.