1972 Vietnam napalm victim shares tale of healing
Kim Phuc was supposed to be a propaganda tool.
That's what the government of Vietnam had in mind for the woman made famous when photographed as a naked child with skin burning from a U.S. napalm attack during the Vietnam War, she says.
When she recovered from the burns that almost killed her on June 8, 1972, she pledged to spread a message of peace and forgiveness.
Kim, 50, now a Canadian citizen and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador living near Toronto with her husband and two sons, spoke to students at Sewickley Academy on Thursday, many of them born three decades after the attack on her village in South Vietnam.
Wearing a royal blue ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese full-length caftan, she held students transfixed as she told the story behind the photo that touched the world.
She and her family, refugees in a Cao Dai temple, were fleeing at the urging of soldiers when the fiery gelled petroleum, used to clear vegetation, rained down.
Associated Press photographer Nick Ut won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo he snapped of the child whose clothing had been burned away.
“He won my heart,” she said. “The photographer put down his camera and rushed me to the nearest hospital. It saved my life.”
Her recovery required 17 surgeries. Even today, when the weather changes, Kim said, the pain returns. She turns to massage or acupuncture.
Kim's scars are not apparent, but students gasped when she pulled up a sleeve to show the ridged flesh on her left arm.
She wanted to become a doctor, but when she was 19, the Vietnamese government discovered she was the girl in the picture and decreed that she should become a symbol of the war.
“I became a victim all over again,” she said.
Around that time, she converted to Christianity. Eventually, she was permitted to attend college in Cuba at the University of Havana, where she met another Vietnamese student who became her husband. They defected to Canada in 1992 during a layover at an airport in Gander, Newfoundland, after a honeymoon trip to Moscow.
Learning to live in another country was challenging, but learning to forgive those who caused her pain was more difficult. Prayer freed her, Kim told the students.
“It was the hardest work of my life,” she said.
That work came full circle in 1996 when she spoke about healing through forgiveness during a Veterans Day service at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. She met a U.S. veteran who told her that he called in the attack that injured her.
“After I forgave John, we became true friends,” she said. “I found that forgiveness is more powerful than any weapon of war.”
Debra Erdley is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7996 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Bethel Park Police arrest 3 for thefts at Wal-Mart
- Blaze destroys 112-year-old Jefferson Hills restaurant
- Review committee forwards 4 names to Allegheny County Council for appointment
- Controversial McKeesport building destroyed by fire
- Firefighters help stranded window washer in Mt. Lebanon
- 2 charged in North Braddock robbery
- Ex-prosecutor concerned with latest Pa. child abuse findings
- None hurt in Duquesne house fire
- Developer of proposed Ross housing subdivision postpones hearing
- Pennsylvania religious freedom law does not extend to for-profits
- Construction to affect Parkway West Thursday, Friday