The Vietnamese Girl That Was In The Napalm Photo

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Pacific Historian
Jun 4, 2005
Orange County, CA
The picture of the young Vietnamese girl running naked in horror and pain from a napalm airstrike has got to be one of the greatest pictures of any war.

Its good to see she has dealt with her wounds, both physical and mental.

I remember seeing this picture in the newspaper in 1972, and my parents told me that while my fascination with war history and the weapons of war was all fine, but I had to realize that many times someone "innocent" was on the receiving end of the weapons and it wasnt always a pretty sight.

Article - News - Girl in famous picture speaks

Girl in famous picture speaks
Kim Phuc, the terrified 9-year-old in an emblematic Vietnam War photo, today is a wife and mother, at peace with herself.
The Orange County Register

NEWPORT BEACH - For years, Kim Phuc had been running away from the famous photograph.

It defined her, trapped her – preserved her in an unforgiving world of pain, anger and sadness.

Sunday, speaking at a church in Newport Beach, Phuc pulled back the left sleeve of her elegant ao dai, a traditional Vietnamese gown, to reveal a severely scarred arm, the unforgettable photo looming behind her on a large screen.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning shot shows a terrified 9-year-old running down a South Vietnamese village road, naked and screaming, her skin burned in a napalm blast.

Shot by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, the photo has become one of the most iconic images of the Vietnam War.

"I should have died," Phuc (pronounced Fook) told rapt congregants at Liberty Baptist Church. "My skin should have burned off my body."

She paused, then said in a sweet voice, "But I'm still beautiful, right?''

People applauded.

It has taken decades for Phuc, now 43, to arrive at the peaceful place she is today – a journey she shares at churches and schools worldwide.

With Ut, a close friend, listening from the front row, Phuc recounted the events of June 8, 1972, and the lessons she has learned through years of depression, followed by a spiritual awakening.

"She should speak in Iraq," said Kieu Loan Nguyen, 55, who attended the morning service specifically to hear Phuc's story. "We all need to listen to her. We all need to heal."

Happiness turns to fear

Phuc had fallen off a bike before – that was about it.

She had not really known pain, until four South Vietnamese Air Force bombs blasted her village of Trang Bang.

Until that day, she had been a happy girl, always laughing. She had felt safe and loved.

Then the napalm fireballs mistakenly roared through a Buddhist pagoda, missing North Vietnamese soldiers hiding nearby.

"For the first time, I knew fear," Phuc said.

Children slowly emerged from the haze, running toward stunned journalists.

Ut, then 19, snapped away.

"I knew it," he said of the image of Phuc. He knew he had an astonishing shot.

Then, he didn't care.

He grabbed a raincoat to cover up Phuc. He put her in a van, and drove her eight miles to a hospital.

"Too hot! Too hot! Too hot!" Phuc wailed.

Phuc spent 14 months in a hospital. Ultimately, she would endure 17 surgeries over 12 years.

"The pain was excruciating, but inside of me was a strong little girl who was determined to live," she said.

As the years passed, Phuc said she felt trapped as a pawn of the communist Vietnamese government, which used the famous picture for political purposes.

"At one point, I did not want to live," Phuc said.

While studying medicine in Cuba, she met a fellow South Vietnamese student, Bui Huy Toan. The two married in 1992 and defected during a honeymoon stopover, returning from Moscow via Newfoundland.

Today, the couple live in Ontario, Canada, with their two sons: Thomas, 13, and Steven, 9.

She has stopped running away from the picture, having learned to embrace what she calls a force more powerful than any weapon:


Until one learns the power of forgiveness, the pain from any scar never will go away, she said.

Phuc's message resonated with even young churchgoers.

"When a person comes out of something like she did, (he or she) can be a bigger person," said Shardae Schick, 12, of Newport Beach.

At the end of her one-hour talk, Phuc urged people to look at the famous picture with new eyes.

"Don't see a little girl crying out in fear and pain," Phuc said. "See her as crying out for peace."

For more information, visit KIM.

Contact the writer: 949-553-2915 or [email protected]


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Another one of those 'unforgettable' Vietnam war photos, that ultimately changed the spectator's perception of the war. The case of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan.

A little extra about the Napalm Girl photo is that it was almost never published, because of her nudity.
This is from the book 'Moments'-The Pulitzer Prize-Winning Photographs by Hal Buell.

"At the bureau (Associated Press), a small debate occurred over the photograph. The girl was completely naked, no one would print it, one editor argued. Horst Fass, the two-time Pulitzer winner who had been in charge of AP picture coverage of the war for a decade, ordered the picture transmitted to New York, where it was agreed that the news value of the photograph overrode any reservations about nudity. It was immediately relayed to the world and became a defining photographic icon; it remains a symbol of the horror of war in general, and of the war in Vietnam in particular."

The photographer, Nick Ut was wounded, a few months later, close to the very spot where he photographed Kim . He took over the photography role from his brother who was also an AP staff photographer, but killed by Vietcong forces while on assignment in 1965. Nick at the time was only 16, and working as film messenger.

Nick still keeps in contact with Kim.

Sadly, a lot of the award winning photos in this book are war related.
Another random image of the Vietnam war, from the same book, but this time taken by Horst Faas.


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