“The fire spread through my arms and across my body, peeling my skin, which hung behind my back, and burnt my clothes. A soldier helped me by pouring water over me, the pain was unbelievable.
I fell down unconscious, later realizing that Napalm is a deadly liquid that intensifies the burns when it comes in contact with water. Which is why I fell unconscious after he poured water.”
The ‘Napalm Girl’ Kim Phuc, had tears saying this while recollecting the incident which made the then nine year old Vietnamese-Canadian famous for the Pulitzer Prize winning photograph, during the Vietnamese War on June 8, 1972.
The chilling photograph captured this nine year old, running naked on the road near Trang Bang, a southeast region of Vietnam by Nick Ut, a photographer who worked with the Associated Press.
This photograph was a wakeup call to many about the horrifying reality and damage done by the war. Napalm, is a flammable liquid which was used in the war. It sticks to the skin and causes severe burns when on fire and later peeling off the skin, due to the mixture of a gelling agent and petroleum.
Kim Phuc, was hospitalized for 14 months, and the doctors doubted whether she would survive. Going through years of therapy and several operations, Kim found it hard to come back to reality. The ‘ugly scars’ on her body reminded her of one of the deadliest attacks in human history, the cries of her cousins burning to death in front of her eyes, the smoke, flames and the smell of the chemical had become hard to forget.
Yes, the photograph won the Pulitzer Prize for perfectly capturing the deadly moment of the war, but to her the image was a haunting memory. She never wanted to look at the image which made her go through sleepless nights.
The emotional turmoil and physical pain she went through made her routine horrible after the war, she lost appetite, sleep and even couldn’t pray or meditate to forget her past. She never thought she would get married, every time she looked in the mirror she could not only see the scars but also hear the sound of the blasts and feel the burn of the chemical.
However she was married and have two sons, “If anything, the scars make me love her more”, says her husband.
Kim Phuc believed that her survival served a purpose. And that the event was necessary to teach her a lesson about helping and forgiving others.
In 1996 she founded the Kim Phuc Foundation, that helps other child victims of war. That same year she also became a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She found joy in helping people, visiting other victims of war at hospitals and giving them hope. Her strength to forgive, positive attitude and tireless efforts to help others inspire everyone she meets.
On Veteran’s day, 1996, Vietnam war veterans gathered to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington. Kim was also there. She gave a speech about the attack she survived. She talked about how she no longer felt anger towards those responsible, as she had found the strength to forgive them. Suddenly, John Plummer, the pilot who was in the plane that dropped the bomb, stood up and started moving towards Kim. He shouted to her that he was responsible and that he was sorry.
Kim came down from the stage and hugged him, and told him “I forgive you”