Napalm girl's life and times

An anonymous AP story tells the life story of Kim Phuc, the "napalm girl" seen running naked down a village road in Nick Ut's 40-year-old Pulitzer-winning photo. Phuc went on to medical school, but her education was interrupted when the Vietnamese politburo demanded that she return home to serve as a propaganda mouthpiece, trapped in a grueling round of closely supervised interviews with western journalists. Later, Phuc went to Cuba, and from there made her way to Canada, where she lives today:

The media eventually found Phuc living near Toronto, and she decided she needed to take control of her story. A book was written in 1999 and a documentary came out, at last the way she wanted it told. She was asked to become a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador to help victims of war. She and Ut have since reunited many times to tell their story, even traveling to London to meet the Queen.

"Today, I'm so happy I helped Kim," said Ut, who still works for AP and recently returned to Trang Bang village. "I call her my daughter."

After four decades, Phuc, now a mother of two sons, 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."

Girl from AP's Vietnam napalm photo finds peace with her role in history (via Kottke)


  1. For some reason I’ve always linked this iconic photograph with the dastardly massacrious deeds of Lt William Calley – it’s a difficult image to behold. Nice to know the subject managed to overcome the odds and create a life of her own in these modern times. She must be well into her 60s by now

      1. Lighten up, Francis. The war ended 37 years ago. It’s not any more meaningful to people who didn’t live through it than the War of the Spanish Succession.

  2. when will we, as a people, realize war does not work, and exists merely to feed the corporate machine, politicians and greed-heads.   What does it feed them?   the life and dreams of children.

    1.  I think “we, as a people” have been moving towards this realization, but even if everyone knew, guess who’s in charge of going to war? “[T]he corporate machine, politicians, and greed-heads.”

      1. Voter turnout yesterday, here in Los Angeles County, was a whopping 17.2%. That, of registered voters. Getting it, is one thing; Doing something about it, is something entirely different.

  3. Wouldn’t “Napalm girl”  be better than Napalm girl in the heading? She’s a person, not a thing.

  4. Nick is a real good guy and talented working photojournalist in LA. His brother was killed in the war and he says today in Vietnam there is very little animosity between those who used to be “enemies”  Further evidence of the  total bullshit that was the basis of that war.

    1.  “Further evidence of the  total bullshit that was the basis of that war.”

      If anyone’s still looking for evidence that the Vietnam War was bullshit in total, there’s likely little/no help for hir.

  5. I can’t believe this picture didn’t accompany the article. Here she is with one of her children.

    1. Do you happen to know the source of that image? I tried google search by image etc. but nobody lists a source. 

      It’s similar to a photo Joe McNally did for Life (he did a series tracking down the subjects of Pulitzer winning photos) which he wrote a blog post about on Monday, which I think is a better photo, and I think doing it in color was a much better decision. The one you posted can’t be from the same shoot because her hair is different – so it was done by someone else who simply tried to duplicate McNally’s shot!

      Both are powerful images because like all photojournalism it’s really the subject that gives the image power, I just find it curious that the one you posted is the one that’s more commonly found across the internet when McNally’s is better and more honest (I think the B&W is a dishonest choice here, an attempt to make it “artistic”).

      1. The first photograph is by Anne Bayin, a fine art photographer. Not sure whether it was shot on film or digital.

        Both images appear to be very similar in terms of post-processing.  The idea that color photography is somehow more honest than black and white seems to be a subjective distinction made with a very fine razor.

        It would be interesting to know which of these images came first, but I think it’s plausible that the images are similar for other reasons.

  6. This photo is when the war became real to me… Seeing someone my age being burnt alive by my government.

  7. I saw one documentary where she was ‘reunited’ with the pilot who dropped the napalm. She was just full of forgiveness. Totally inspiring.

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