The Speech – Phan Thi Kim Phuc
The Vietnam War knows many tragedies, some more familiar than others. A photograph of a young girl running naked down a road, her skin on fire with napalm, changed the way the world looked at the Vietnam War, and at all wars. The photograph was transmitted around the world and later won a Pulitzer Prize. The girl in the picture is Kim Phuc.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc was born and raised in a village near Saigon. In 1972, Americans and the South Vietnamese Airforce dropped napalm bombs on her village. Nine-year-old Phuc fled from a Buddhist pagoda, where she and her family were hiding. Two of her infant cousins did not survive the attack, and Phuc was badly burned. Phuc was photographed running down the road, screaming from the burns to her skin. Ut’s photograph of Phuc remains one of the most unforgettable images of the Vietnam War.
Phuc was not expected to live. After two years, however, with the help of doctors who were committed to her care, she was able to return to her village and her family began to rebuild their lives. During the following years, the government subjected her to endless interviews and officials summoned her to Ho Chi Minh City to be used in propaganda films. Phuc had been forced to quit school and move back to her province, where she was supervised daily as a “national symbol of war.”
In 1986, Phuc was sent to study in Cuba and eventually settled in Canada. When Vietnam veterans invited her to participate at a service in Washington, as part of a Veteran’s Day observance, Phuc shared her experience to help others heal from the pain of war. While there, she spoke face to face with a veteran involved in dropping the bombs on that day in 1972, and forgave him.
Phuc’s incredible story was turned into a book called The Girl in the Picture and a documentary called Kim’s Story: The Road from Vietnam.
In light of Phuc’s struggle, she established a foundation to further heal the wounds of war. The Kim Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to funding programs to heal children in war torn areas of the world. It is named for Phuc, who wants to give back what so many gave to her to contribute to her healing. In 1997 UNESCO named her a Goodwill Ambassador
June 30, 2008
The Long Road To Forgiveness
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 9 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 No. 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 14 months and had 17 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 anymore.
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.
In 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?
This essay was produced by Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. NPR’s This I Believe is independently produced by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman with John Gregory and Viki Merrick.