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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, taken by Nick Ut of the Associated Press, was transmitted around the world and later won a Pulitzer Prize. The girl in the picture is Kim Phuc.
Phuc will talk about her memories of that day and her long, inspiring road to recovery as part of Lakeland College's Lecture Series on Thursday, March 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Bradley Auditorium. Her lecture is free and open to the public.Phan Thi Kim Phuc was born and raised in the village of Trang Bang, 30 minutes north of Saigon. During the Vietnam War, the strategic Route 1 that runs through the village became the main supply road from Saigon to Phnom Penh. On June 8, 1972, together with American co-ordinators, the South Vietnamese Airforce dropped napalm bombs on Kim's village. Then 9, Kim fled from a Buddhist pagoda, where she and her family were hiding. Two of her infant cousins did not survive the attack, and Kim was badly burned.
Kim was photographed running down the road, screaming from the third degree burns to her skin. Ut, who was there to cover the siege, took the photograph of young Kim, and he rushed her to a South Vietnamese hospital. She then spent 14 months recovering in Barsky Hospital, the American hospital in Saigon, where her care was paid for by a private foundation. Ut's photograph of Kim remains one of the most unforgettable images of the Vietnam War.
She was not expected to live. The third degree burns covering half her body would require many operations and years of therapy. 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.
In 1982, 10 years after the famous photograph, a German photographer located Kim. In the interim, the government had subjected her to endless interviews; communist officials had summoned her to Ho Chi Minh City to be used in propaganda films. Kim had been forced to quit school and move back to her province, where she was supervised daily as a "national symbol of war." It was a low point in her life, and she spent time reading to find a purpose for her life. On Christmas in 1982, she became a Christian.
In 1986, Kim was sent to study in Cuba, where she met a fellow Vietnamese student, Bui Huy Toan. They married in 1992, and spent their honeymoon in Moscow. On their return to Cuba, the couple defected when the plane they were traveling in stopped to refuel in Gander, Newfoundland. With the help of some Quakers, they settled in Canada, and her husband, a computer specialist, was able to gain employment as a nurse's aid with the disabled.
When Vietnam Veterans groups heard of Kim's whereabouts, they invited her to participate at a service in Washington, as part of a Veterans Day observance. Phuc wanted to share her experience and 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.
In light of Kim's struggle, a foundation has been established to further heal the wounds of war. The Kim Foundation is a non-profit organization committed to funding programs to heal children in war torn areas of the world. It is named for Kim Phuc, who wants to give back what so many gave to her to contribute to her healing.
Now, Phuc lives in the Toronto area of Canada with her husband and two sons, Thomas and Stephen. In 1997, UNESCO named her a Goodwill Ambassador for Peace. She is also an Honourary Member of Kingston Rotary, an Honourary Member of St. Albert Rotary, a member of the Advisory Board for the Wheelchair Foundation, an Honourary Member of the Canadian Commission for UNESCO and a recipient of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal.