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Napalm Girl

01 Jun

In the picture, the girl will always be nine years old and wailing “Too hot! Too hot!” as she runs down the road away from her burning Vietnamese village.

She will always be naked after blobs of sticky napalm melted through her clothes and layers of skin like jellied lava.

It only took a second for Associated Press photographer Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut to snap the iconic black-and-white image 40 years ago. It communicated the horrors of the Vietnam War in a way words could never describe, helping to end one of America’s darkest eras.

“I really wanted to escape from that little girl,” says the subject of photo, Kim Phuc, now 49. “But it seems to me that the picture didn’t let me go.”

It was June 8, 1972, when Phuc heard the soldier’s scream: “We have to run out of this place! They will bomb here, and we will be dead!”

Seconds later, she saw the tails of yellow and purple smoke bombs curling around the Cao Dai temple where her family had sheltered for three days, as north and south Vietnamese forces fought for control of their village.

The little girl heard a roar overhead as the South Vietnamese Skyraider dropped canisters like tumbling eggs.

Then fire evaporated her cotton clothes and searing pain bit through skin and muscle.

In shock, Phuc sprinted down Highway 1 behind her older brother. She didn’t see the foreign journalists gathered as she ran toward them, screaming.

Then, she lost consciousness.

Ut, the 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer who took the picture, drove Phuc to a small hospital. He was told the girl was unlikely to survive, but he flashed his American press pass and demanded that doctors treat her.

“I cried when I saw her running,” said Ut, whose older brother was killed on assignment with the AP in the southern Mekong Delta. “If I don’t help her – if something happened and she died – I think I’d kill myself after that.”

Back at the office in what was then US-backed Saigon, he developed his film. When the image of the naked little girl emerged, everyone feared it would be rejected because of the news agency’s strict policy against nudity.

But veteran Vietnam photo editor Horst Faas took one look and knew it was a shot made to break the rules. He argued the photo’s news value far outweighed any other concerns, and he won.

A couple of days after the image shocked the world, another journalist found out the little girl had somehow survived.

After multiple skin grafts, Phuc was finally allowed to leave, 13 months after the bombing. She had seen Ut’s photo, which by then had won the Pulitzer Prize, but she was still unaware of its reach and power.

She just wanted to go home and be a child again.

She worked hard and was accepted into medical school to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. But all that ended once the new communist leaders realised the propaganda value of the napalm girl in the photo.

Then suddenly, once again, the photo that had given her unwanted fame brought opportunity.

Phuc travelled to West Germany in 1982 for medical care with the help of a foreign journalist. Later Vietnam’s prime minister, also touched by her story, made arrangements for her to study in Cuba.

She was finally free from the minders and reporters hounding her at home, but her life was far from normal. Ut, then working at the AP in Los Angeles, travelled to meet her in 1989, but they never had a moment alone. There was no way for him to know she desperately wanted his help again.

“I knew in my dream that one day Uncle Ut could help me to have freedom,” said Phuc, referring to him by an affectionate Vietnamese term. “But I was in Cuba. I was really disappointed because I couldn’t contact with him. I couldn’t do anything.”

While at school, Phuc met a young Vietnamese man. She had never believed anyone would ever want her because of the ugly patchwork of scars across her back and arm, but Bui Huy Toan seemed to love her more because of them.

The two married in 1992 and honeymooned in Moscow. On the flight back to Cuba, the newlyweds defected during a refuelling stop in Canada. She was free.

Phuc contacted Ut to share the news, and he encouraged her to tell her story to the world. But she was done giving interviews and posing for photos.

“I have a husband and a new life and want to be normal like everyone else,” she said.

The media eventually found Phuc living near Toronto, and she decided she needed to take control of her story. A book was written in 1999 and a documentary came out, at last the way she wanted it told. She was asked to become a UN goodwill ambassador to help victims of war. She and Ut have since reunited many times to tell their story, even travelling to London to meet the Queen.

“Today, I’m so happy I helped Kim,” said Ut, who still works for AP and recently returned to Trang Bang village. “I call her my daughter.”

After four decades, Phuc, now a mother of two sons, can finally look at the picture of herself running naked and understand why it remains so powerful. It had saved her, tested her and ultimately freed her.

“Most of the people, they know my picture but there’s very few that know about my life,” she said. “I’m so thankful that … I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice. Then I can work with it for peace.”

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37 Comments

Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

37 responses to “Napalm Girl

  1. suemacarthur

    June 12, 2012 at 5:53 am

    I have seen the first pic many time Ian and every time, it get to me, the 2nd pic is just beautiful, she is a beautiful young lady who could teach many a thing or two about life
    Take care my friend
    Sue

     
    • The Emu

      June 12, 2012 at 9:15 am

      Ithought it would be timely now Sue to repost the pic with one of her as she is now.
      I like to think this pic maybe helped in bringing the war to a close
      It is beautiful to read she has moved on in life but she will always carry the little girls scars
      Cheers
      Ian

       
  2. zannyro

    June 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Thanks for the current picture of her! The article I read last week did not provide a current picture and it’s very heart warming to see her now 🙂

     
    • The Emu

      June 10, 2012 at 7:59 am

      Thanks for commenting my friend, it was a sad and time in Vietnam back in those days I recall ,but it is beautiful to see this little girl survived and went on with her life , albeit she will always carry the mental scars of a brutal time, wishing you well and a great weekend
      Emu

       
  3. Sabina Brave

    June 9, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Hearttouching story. Thank you for sharing, Ian.

     
    • The Emu

      June 10, 2012 at 7:50 am

      Thanks Sabina , beautiful to know the little girl survived and went on to live a good life
      Even though she will carry mental scars all her life
      Wishing you well
      Emu

       
  4. michiko san

    June 9, 2012 at 12:17 am

    Hi Emu,
    I remember seeing about this photo but you are doing very were about nice girl lady ..
    You are doing pretty well it does good for us.
    Michiko

     
    • The Emu

      June 9, 2012 at 9:28 am

      Hi Michiko,yes it was a sad photograph but I like to think it helped bring the war to a close earlier
      And it is beautiful that the little girl was able to get on with her life even though she has the mental scars
      Wishing you much happiness Princess Michiko and a great weekend
      Emu

       
  5. sudiste1359

    June 7, 2012 at 11:14 am

    homesick for me, talking about Saigon
    I remember this picture, very sad, but at that time it was war. I’ve lost also members of my family, during this war, and on 1985 my family left saigon with the US. Now they are living in USA and somewhere else.
    Hugs to you

     
    • The Emu

      June 8, 2012 at 10:55 pm

      Hi dear Sudiste,it was a horrible long war and at least the little girl was able to move on in her life,I am so sorry your family was affected, I think every family lost some members,I recall some beautiful times in amongst the war when I was there, particularly the little French fort on Lon Son island off the coast of Baria, and also An Ngai at the base of the Long Hai mountains and Hoa Long outside of Baria and of course Vung Tau, I would love to return one day as I really loved the culture and people, still like Nuoc Mam sauce too.
      Have a great weekend Sudiste
      Emu

       
  6. giselzitrone

    June 6, 2012 at 10:06 am

    Wünsche dir einen schönen Tag was für eine schreckliche Geschichte und sehr schlimm der Krieg ist so sinnlos Grüsse dich lieb einen schönen Tag Gislinde

     
    • The Emu

      June 8, 2012 at 10:49 pm

      Vielen Dank für die Kommentierung Gislinde, ja es eine schlechte und lange Krieg war, es war toll das kleine Mädchen erholt und konnte im Leben zu bewegen.
      emu

       
  7. Zen and Genki

    June 5, 2012 at 6:37 pm

    I remember seeing this photo when I was young, and then again, right before I was set to travel in Vietnam…it was very odd being in Vietnam (the book this pic is on the cover of is reproduced, illegally, en masse, there and sold outside of the war museums on poorly photocopied and stapled together sheets) Still just as powerful a shot as it was the first time I saw it.

     
    • The Emu

      June 6, 2012 at 12:48 am

      Thanks for commenting , this event occurred a few years after I left Vietnam and I like to think it played a part in bringing the war to a close, and its beautiful to know she survived and went on with her life albeit bearing mental scars, its not good that her book is being reproduced without royaltys to her.
      Aussie Emu

       
  8. lscotthoughts

    June 5, 2012 at 12:08 am

    What a sad, horrific story, but I am so glad this little girl made it through that horror and eventually, found her normal life…words can’t even express what men and women experience and nowadays “world peace” has an even stronger meaning. I would like to hope we will see it someday, but maybe not in an earthly fashion~thanks for sharing and bringing awareness to the wickedness of war~ Have a wonderful evening!

     
    • The Emu

      June 6, 2012 at 12:46 am

      Thanks my friend for commenting , this event occurred a few years after I left Vietnam and I like to think it played a part in bringing the war to a close, and its beautiful to know she survived and went on with her life albeit bearing mental scars
      Aussie Emu

       
  9. magsx2

    June 3, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Hi,
    It is a photo that will never be forgotten and shouldn’t be either. I am so glad that life has finally worked out for her, and that she is now happy and helping others as well, a very remarkable Lady.

     
    • The Emu

      June 6, 2012 at 12:45 am

      Thanks for commenting , this event occurred a few years after I left Vietnam and I like to think it played a part in bringing the war to a close, and its beautiful to know she survived and went on with her life albeit bearing mental scars
      Aussie Emu

       
  10. Sue Dreamwalker

    June 3, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Emu, I remember this photo so very well, and its impact upon me when I first saw is just as strong today as it was way back then. The horrors of what we humans do to one another in the name of War is horrendous. And I can only pray that we as a species of Human Beings come to realise just how in-human many of us are as we still see those same horrors taking place around corners of our globe as the young and innocent suffer…
    I can see why so many were so disturbed by the after effects of witnessing such horrors of this most terrible of wars, And I can only salute you and others who survived through it.. And Who served their country through these terrible times…
    I pray for Peace more than ever, as I feel so much pain within our world.. And I pray that Men and women will see the futility of War as the tool of control and power and greed of men who from their distant shelters dictate control through the Fear Factors of Distruction.
    Peace has a place upon this realm, If we say NO to Fear and ALL that it entails..
    Bless you Emu, For being the Compassionate BEing you are.. and for sharing this story on its near anniversary so we can ALL of us remember, so we can say No War!!..
    Love and Blessings my friend.. ~Sue x

     
    • The Emu

      June 4, 2012 at 9:28 am

      Hi Sue, this is certainly a pic that is embedded in many peoples minds from the Vietnam era
      I like to think its publication played a part in bringing the war to a close.
      It is truely great that the little girl was strong enough to overcome her past but as you said , behind her beautiful adult eyes
      will always be a little girl screaming , Too Hot Too Hot.
      Thank you for commenting
      Aussie Emu

       
  11. Angelwings6

    June 3, 2012 at 6:36 am

    I remember seeing that photo a few times myself, It circulated worldwide my friend… A sad story indeed, it makes me feel sad for those who innocently suffered the terrors of war…..

     
    • The Emu

      June 4, 2012 at 9:23 am

      Hi Lady Jude, I have seen this pic many times and think because I am a Viet

       
    • The Emu

      June 4, 2012 at 9:25 am

      Hi Lady Jude, this is certainly a pic that is embedded in many peoples minds from the Vietnam era
      I like to think its publication played a part in bringing the war to a close.
      It is truely great that the little girl was strong enough to overcome her past but as you said , behind her beautiful adult eyes
      will always be a little girl screaming , Too Hot Too Hot.
      Thank you for commenting
      Aussie Emu

       
  12. chicasl10

    June 2, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    How can we forget this foto. The world was able to see what horror the napalm was.
    The girl is a lady now She smiles. But behind that smile there will always be the pain.
    The fotographer had to take this moment..Its Like with the guy with the Pulitzer price 1994.\
    And the foto with the Afghaan lady with the green eyes,
    So for all the Vietnam victims Fys or psyh.injuries. War is a nightmare..We have to wake up .
    New wars new weapons. Uglier as ever.

     
    • The Emu

      June 2, 2012 at 10:26 pm

      Hi dear friend, this is certainly a pic that is embedded in many peoples minds from the Vietnam era
      I like to think its publication played a part in bringing the war to a close.
      It is truely great that the little girl was strong enough to overcome her past but as you said , behind her beautiful adult eyes
      will always be a little girl screaming , Too Hot Too Hot.
      Thank you for commenting
      Aussie Emu

       
  13. kate58

    June 2, 2012 at 9:55 am

    I was a child when I first saw that photo; 10 or 11. It made me cry – it gave me nightmares. I’m so glad she finally got the normal life she so longed for.

     
    • The Emu

      June 2, 2012 at 10:40 am

      Showing your age Kate, I was twenty two and had just returned from Vietnam when this incident occurred.
      It was the most dramatic pic to come out of Vietnam and I think was a turning point in the war
      as it bought the reality of war into the homes
      Cheers girl and have a great Sunday , hope the petition is gathering speed
      Emu

       
  14. Androgoth

    June 2, 2012 at 2:34 am

    I have seen this footage and it is frighteningly ghoulish, indeed the perfect photograph to be used for a positive outcome, when at the time was a life or death struggle for her…

    It is as shocking today as it was when it was originally snapped, and thank you Ian for adding this story as it is an exceedingly powerful image that shocked the whole planet…

    Have a very good weekend my great friend 🙂 🙂

    Androgoth

     
    • The Emu

      June 2, 2012 at 5:53 am

      Like to think Androgoth that her pic actually helped in bringing home to the world the futility of war
      Sadly mankind has not learnt from past mistakes, we still to this day all around the world fire lead at each other
      Mankind has not evolved, we still have the caveman mentality of hostility as oppossed to communication
      Cheers
      Emu

       
  15. prenin

    June 2, 2012 at 1:06 am

    I remember her story well Ian.

    Her picture was a powerful strike against war.

    I’ve seen her story many times and I still weep for the burning child in the picture.

    I guess I always will…

    God Bless.

    Prenin.

     
    • The Emu

      June 2, 2012 at 5:52 am

      Like to think mate that her pic actually helped in bringing home to the world the futility of war
      Sadly mankind has not learnt from past mistakes, we still to this day all around the world fire lead at each other
      Mankind has not evolved, we still have the caveman mentality of hostility as oppossed to communication
      Cheers
      Emu

       
  16. wonkywizard

    June 2, 2012 at 12:30 am

    Thanks Emu. We saw that picture many years ago, and was wondering about her life or death. Thanks God she’s alive and well. There is still some sanity in insanity.

     
    • The Emu

      June 2, 2012 at 5:50 am

      Thanks for commenting my friend ,this incident occurred after I had left Vietnam in 1971
      I like to think the pic actually played a role in the final analysis of the war
      Mankind even to this day has not learnt from past mistakes, with all our evolution we are still firing lead at each other
      We cannot truely say we have evolved when we hold onto the caveman mentality of hostility as oppossed to communication
      Aussie Emu

       
  17. Angel O'Fire

    June 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm

    I am lost for words, the horror’s from that war are unthinkable, unimaginable, and simply dreadful, as I read your words, I was covered in goosebumps, the things you have seen, the life you fort for me and generations before and after me to have, is something that the words thank you, to you and to all the men and women who faced the horrors of war, are simply not enough, but I thank you and all those who were with you who fort for me and mine to be here today. I think of those who suffered such agony an agony that words simply do not describe, and fight back the tears, how can our world be such a fucked up place? how can governments allow this to happen? worse it continues for those suffering in Afghanistan, Pakistan and world wide as war continues,
    The word war does not describe the horror that people face, endure and are left with in their memories for life if they return home.
    Emu aka Ian, the one of many things that inspire me about you has always been your compassion for others, your fight to live, and your true blue Aussie spirit that you hold. You are many things, as you know I have said before, but most of all your my hero. Love always
    Angel

     
    • The Emu

      June 2, 2012 at 5:46 am

      Hi Sherlock , thanks for commenting,the specific incident behind the pic occurred after I had left Vietnam in 1971
      I think it was a pic that actually bought home to everyone the futility of war and how it affects those on the ground
      Many soldiers like me on reflection cannot understand what we were involved in, I am grateful to whatever God that took that little girl under his wings. Sadly girl its a fact of life , mankind has not learnt by their mistakes , shit after all our evolution we are still all around the world , firing lead at each other, call that Evolution, ? bullshit , we are still in caveman days of mentality.
      And cut out the hero crap otherwise I will dibber dob to Gilliard on ya
      Emu

       
      • Angel O'Fire

        June 2, 2012 at 5:58 am

        you don’t have to tell me about the whole not evolved thing, I already know about it, as for man kind well as a race we are pretty much a messed up species, in fact i am surprised we have reproduced for this long…..(((hugs)))) always Emu

         
        • The Emu

          June 2, 2012 at 6:05 am

          Think we have read the same bloody book girl and know the bloody ending
          Emu

           

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