The little girl in the photo, 38 years later

Kim Phuc napalm 1972

This photograph, taken by Vietnamese photog Nick Ut for the Associated Press, has been called the iconic photo of the Vietnam War. I remember seeing it in the newspapers when I was in high school, and the image is still stored away somewhere in my brain.

Ut snapped it as children fled their Napalmed village, Bang Trang, on July 8, 1972. The little girl in the center is Kim Phuc, who was nine years old at the time. The Napalm had burned off all her clothes and left her with horrible burns over half her body.

Ut and a film crew for ITN, the British TV network, saved Phuc’s life, twice. First, they doused her with water and rushed her to a British hospital. Then the ITN crew arranged for her to be transferred to a US hospital for further treatment.

Since then, Phuc, now 47, has enjoyed periods of anonymity and suffered from the glare of publicity. The Vietnamese government used her as a “poster child” for the war while she was a young woman, against her wishes. She was able to attend university in Cuba, where she married a fellow Viet student. On their way to Moscow for their honeymoon, the couple asked for asylum in Canada during a refueling stop. Phuc has lived in Canada ever since.

On Sunday, reporters for the BBC Radio 4 program, “It’s My Story,” tracked her down, and reunited her with Christopher Wain, the ITN reporter who had helped save her life, on air. It’s well worth the listen. You can listen to the half-hour program on the BBC Radio 4 website, but only for five more days.

I didn’t realize until I heard the broadcast that it was North Vietnamese who Napalmed the village, not American forces. Regardless, the image and Phuc’s retelling of the incident reminds us what a horrible thing war really is.

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