Kim Phuc was only 9 when an Associated Press photographer took her picture, screaming and naked, after the South Vietnamese military dropped napalm on her village, Trang Bang.
The bombing was accidental, the victims civilians, and Kim, now 52, remembers that day vividly. So does the man whose picture of the so-called “napalm girl” became a symbol of the Vietnam War, was featured on the cover of the New York Times, and ended up winning a Pulitzer Prize, the Washington Post reported.
Nick Ut is now 65 and remembers what Phuc said that day as her skin peeled from her body and her clothes had been melted off: “I think I’m dying, too hot, too hot, I’m dying.” After taking Phuc’s photo, Ut sheltered her and other fleeing children in an AP van and led all of them to a hospital in Saigon.
“So they tried to help me,” Phuc told CBS News. “But after they pouring water over my body, seems like I pass out. I didn’t remember anything else.”
Kim was taken to the hospital and put her in the morgue — they didn’t think she’d make it. But she did, and lived through 17 operations over 14 months. The young girl was left with scars four times as thick as normal skin, the Independent added.
“At nine years old, I remember I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, I got burned and I became ugly. And people will see me different way.’ “
These days, Kim calls Nick “Uncle Ut,” and last month, he accompanied her to a Miami dermatologist’s office to stand by her side as Phuc received the first of several laser treatments to soften the scar tissue and ease chronic pain.
“He’s the beginning and the end,” Phuc said. “He took my picture and now he’ll be here with me with this new journey, new chapter.”
Dr. Jill Waibel, who specializes in using lasers to treat people suffering from burns, is giving Phuc several treatments over the next nine months for free.
Ever since that day in 1972, Kim has had difficulty performing simple tasks and suffers from chronic pain. Scar tissue covers her body from her left hand to her hairline and nearly her entire back, roughly a third of her entire body. Her doctor said she was lucky to be alive after suffering such serious burns.
Phuc remembered life as a child in Vietnam and how, after she was burned with napalm, her physical abilities were never the same.
“As a child, I loved to climb on the tree, like a monkey After I got burned, I never climbed on the tree anymore and I never played the game like before with my friends. It’s really difficult. I was really, really disabled.”
Since then, Kim married Bui Huy Thoan, and moved to Ajax, Canada, in the early 1990s. And she’s come to grips with the famous picture, which used to embarrass Kim and cause her to shy from the publicity.
“I always remember that horrible day that we ran from life to death,” Kim recalled. “I realized that if I couldn’t escape that picture, I wanted to go back to work with that picture for peace. And that is my choice.”
Today, Phuc is a champion for the youngest victims of war and created a nonprofit called Kim Foundation International, which advocates for child protection and rehab projects in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East.
The treatments that will ease Phuc’s pain do not sound pleasant. The laser was originally used for a much-less noble purpose — smoothing eye wrinkles — and Phuc’s life-changing treatment will be accomplished by boiling the skin to vaporize her scar tissue.
Kim said that after the treatment, her scars reddened and began to itch, but she is optimistic and plans to move forward with further sessions regardless.
“So many years I thought I have no more scars, no more pain when I’m in heaven. But now — heaven on earth for me! Maybe it takes a year. But I am really excited — and thankful.”
[Photo Via YouTube Screengrab]