Monday 26 February 2018

Girl in photo relives horror 40 years on

Marge Mason in Trang Bang, Vietnam

In the picture, the girl will always be nine years old and wailing, "Too hot! Too hot!" as she runs down the road away from her burning Vietnamese village.

She will always be naked after blobs of sticky napalm melted through her clothes and layers of skin.

It only took a second for Associated Press photographer Huynh Cong "Nick" Ut to snap the black-and-white image this week 40 years ago.

It communicated the horrors of the Vietnam War in a way words could never describe, helping to end one of the most divisive wars in American history.

But beneath the photo taken on June 8, 1972, lies a lesser known story. It's the tale of a dying child brought together by chance with a young photographer.

"I really wanted to escape from that little girl," says Phan Thi Kim Phuc, now 49 and a mother of two sons. "But it seems to me that the picture didn't let me go."

Mr Ut, the 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer who took the picture, drove Ms Phan to a small hospital.

There, he was told the child was too far gone to help. But he flashed his US press badge and demanded that doctors treat the girl.

"I cried when I saw her running," said Mr Ut, whose older brother was killed on assignment with the AP in the southern Mekong Delta.

"If I don't help her -- if something happened and she died -- I think I'd kill myself after that."

After multiple skin grafts and surgeries, Ms Phan was allowed to leave hospital, 13 months after the bombing.

"Today, I'm so happy I helped Kim," said Ut, who recently returned to Trang Bang village in Vietnam. "I call her my daughter."

After four decades, Ms Phan can finally look at the picture of herself running naked and understand why it remains so powerful. It had saved her, tested her and ultimately freed her.

"Most of the people, they know my picture but there's very few that know about my life," she said. "I'm so thankful that ... I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice. Then I can work with it for peace."

Irish Independent

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