In the picture,the girl will always be 9 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 sticky napalm melted through her clothes and layers of skin. She will always be a victim without a name.
It only took a second for AP photographer Huynh Cong Nick Ut to snap the iconic black-and-white image 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.
I really wanted to escape from that little girl, says Kim Phuc,now 49. But it seems to me that the picture didnt let me go.
It was June 8,1972,Phuc heard a South Vietnamese Skyraider swoop down toward her,dropping canisters like tumbling eggs. Fire danced up Phucs left arm. The threads of her cotton clothes evaporated. I will be ugly,and Im not normal anymore, she thought. In shock,she sprinted down Highway 1 behind her older brother. Then,she lost consciousness.
Ut,the 21-year-old photographer who took the picture,drove Phuc to a small hospital. There,he was told the child was too far gone. But he flashed his US press badge,demanded doctors treat her. I cried when I saw her running, said Ut. If I dont help her,if something happened and she died,I think Id kill myself after that.
Everyone feared the image would be rejected because APs policy against nudity. But photo editor Horst Faas knew it was a shot made to break rules. He argued the photos news value far outweighed any other concerns,and he won.
After four decades,Phuc,now a mother of two sons,can finally look at the picture and understand why it remains so powerful. It had saved her,tested her and freed her. Most people,know my picture but theres very few that know about my life…Im so thankful… I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice. Then I can work with it for peace.