On this date, an iconic Pulitzer Prize–winning photograph of the Vietnam War was taken by AP photographer Huyng Cong Nick Ut. The photo shows Phan Thị Kim Phúc at about nine years of age running naked on a road in the village of Trang Bang, screaming from burns to her skin.
Trang Bang had just come under attack by South Vietnamese planes, which mistakenly dropped napalm on a Buddhist pagoda in an area where the North Vietnamese were infiltrating. While running for safety with other children, Kim was severely burned by the napalm. Kim suffered many years of painful burn therapy, but she always longed to reach out and help other children who were victimized by war.
In the 1980s, Kim got a chance to study medicine in Cuba, where she met her future husband, Bui Huy Toan. In 1992, the couple asked for political asylum in Canada during their honeymoon trip.
Half a century later, she lives in Ajax, Ontario, with her husband and two children. She established The Kim Foundation International, with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war.
The Long Road to Forgiveness
Kim Phuc – Toronto, Canada, as heard on NPR’s “All Things Considered”, 30 June 2008:
On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam, I saw an airplane getting lower and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire.
I was nine years old but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly and people would treat me in a different way. My picture was taken in that moment on Road number 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness.
Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent fourteen months and had seventeen operations. It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed, we lost everything, and we just survived day-by-day.
Although I suffered from pain, itching, and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school any more.
The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.
I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible. On Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn’t happen in a day and it wasn’t easy. But I finally got it.
Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days, but my heart is cleansed.
Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope, and forgiveness. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
Phan Thị Kim Phúc is the living symbol of the suffering of innocent war victims. Her image of being burned by napalm during the Vietnam War raised worldwide awareness of the horrors of the War, and indeed of all wars, and made her the bearer of the message of forgiveness, reconciliation, and tolerance.
An Evening with Kim Phuc