Kim Phuc: The Vietnam War’s ‘napalm’ girl in photos
A South Vietnamese Skyraider jet dropped its load of canisters. Inside them was napalm. The bombs exploded as they hit the ground. The goo struck Kim Phuc, melting her clothes and burning her skin.
She ran. Screaming.
Kim Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut, a 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer, took a shot of the nine-year-old Kim Phuc running naked down Route 1. “Nick” Ut won a Pulitzer Prize for that Vietnamese War photograph.
He saved Kim Phuc’s life, taking her to hospital and demanding she be treated.
As he said years later:
“I cried when I saw her running. If I don’t help her — if something happened and she died — I think I’d kill myself after that.”
After 13 months of skin grafts and treatment, Kim Phuc left hospital. She had the scars. The world had an image of a brutal war.
(Also in the famous picture are Kim’s brother Phan Thanh Tam, who lost an eye, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting.)
When the northern communists won control of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, Kim Phuc wanted to get into medical school. But the regime had plans for her. They knew about the girl in the photo. Forced to end her studies, Kim Phuc was the celebrity who would always explain what the communists had defeated. She was trapped:
“I wanted to escape that picture. I got burned by napalm, and I became a victim of war … but growing up then, I became another kind of victim.”
The Vietnamese prime minister stepped in. He enabled her to live in Cuba.
In 1992 she married Bui Huy Toan in Moscow. On the flight back to Cuba, the flight stopped in Canda. Kim and her husband ran. Phuc called Ut, then working in Los Angeles for the AP.
Forty years after that photograph Phuc is the mother of two sons. She says:
“Most of the people, they know my picture but there’s very few that know about my life. 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.”
Associated Press staff photographer Nick Ut and Phan Thi Kim Phuc share a quiet moment together during a brief reunion in Havana, Cuba, Aug. 17, 1989. The two shared a not-so-quiet moment in 1972 when Ut photographed the then-9-year-old Kim Phuc running terrified from her napalmed South Vietnam village. (AP Photo/Jim Caccavo)