Nick Ut - Still a Photographer with the Associated Press

by Horst Faas and Marianne Fulton

Huynh Cong Ut was 14 years old when he was introduced to the Associated Press office in Saigon by his mother. Ut was born on March 29, 1951 in the southern Mekong Delta province of Long An and was the younger brother of Vietnamese photographer Huynh Thanh My who had been killed a few weeks earlier  while photographing combat action  in the Mekong Delta on October 10, 1965 on assignment for The Associated Press. Ut was looking for a job and Horst Faas hired him on January 1, 1966, after a trial period of six weeks. It was exactly ten years after Horst Faas himself had officially joined the AP. Huynh Cong Ut started in the AP by mixing photo processing chemicals and the job keeping the photo darkroom tidy.

"I loved the darkroom", Nick Ut remembered in an interview," I could print the picture by myself and see how the photographer had taken it. I never took a class in photography, I learned by seeing the photographers' work and what every day war looked like." 

By 1967 little brother Ut had become an accomplished news photographer and his photos taken during the communist Tet offensive testified to his courage and abilities. Nick recalls: "Horst (Faas) had misgivings. He was afraid I would get killed, too."

Ut had many close calls. During the Cambodian campaign he was wounded twice, once in the stomach and once in the upper right hand chest area. Ironically he was hit a third time very close to where the picture of Kim had been taken.  North Vietnamese troops had attacked Trang Bang again. "I rushed towards the area where I knew Kim Phuc was when a mortar exploded in front of me. I was hit.  My colleagues rushed me to the hospital. I still have some shrapnel in my leg." Nick said. 

In his seventh year with The Associated Press the then 21 year old Huynh Cong Ut , by then called affectionately 'Nick' Ut  took one of the most recognized photographs of the conflict in Vietnam, winning journalism's highest honor, The Pulitzer Prize for Photography in  1973 for his picture of the then 9-year old girl Phan Thi Kim Phuc running away from the fire of napalm and screaming in pain.

The photograph also won awards from World Press Photo, Sigma Delta Chi, the George Polk Memorial award, an award of the Overseas Press Club and the award of the Associated Press Managing Editors  (APME). 

The photograph changed the lives of both the photographer Huynh Cong Ut and his subject, the "napalm girl" from Trang Bang, Phan Thi Kim Phuc.

Ut was evacuated on April 22, 1975, during the last week of the Vietnam War, in a plane headed for the Philippines. A few days earlier he had tried to get through to Kim Phuc again - but the roads had already been overrun by the North Vietnamese Army.

Although only 24 years old he had covered the war for eight years. 

"I went to my house and picked up some of my camera gear and my sister in law, Arlette (widow of his late brother Huynh Thanh My) and her then ten-year old daughter and we got out right away. My mother stayed behind. She cried. I also left some camera gear and all my personal negatives and pictures," said Nick Ut.

He found himself like many other Vietnamese refugees living in the tent cities of Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in Southern California. Within a month, the prize winning photographer was transferred to AP's Tokyo bureau. Two years later, 1977, he arrived in Los Angeles where he continues to work as an AP photographer on general assignment work and where he became an American citizen.

Nick Ut returned to Vietnam for the first time in 1989 to work on a story about the search for Americans missing in action (MIA's).

In 1993 he was asked to open The Associated Press ' new Hanoi bureau with his old friend and Saigon colleague George Esper. In April 2000 Nick Ut, accompanied by his old bosses of 1972, Horst Faas (Photos) and Richard Pyle (Chief of Bureau, Saigon) revisited Trang Bang and met Phan Thi Kim Phuc's relatives who still live within hundred yards of the scene of the incident of June 8, 1972.

Ut and his wife, Le Tuyet Hong, live in Monterey Park, California, with their two children.

Kim Phuc as a Goodwill Ambassador of the United 
Nations and the Publication of the Story of her Life.

Kim Phuc has become an anti-war symbol in the West.  Vietnam had used her as an anti-American symbol before her defection in 1992.  She has no regrets. 

Kim Phuc (her name means "Golden Happiness" ) had spent 14 months recovering from her wounds and underwent 17 transplants and other operations. 

In November 1997 Kim Phuc was named by Director General Frederico Mayor a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) "for a culture of peace".  The event took place during a plenary session of the UNESCO General Conference.

She also established the Kim Foundation (healing children of war) with offices in Ajax, Ontario, Canada and Chicago IL, financed by voluntary donations.  "I want to give back in the same way that so many gave to my healing", she said at the UNESCO ceremony in Paris. "Yes, I forgive, but I don't forget in order to prevent the same thing from happening again." 

Kim Phuc now aspires to learn French and has signed up for language courses in Montreal.

Her husband Bui Huy Toan occupies himself with helping people in Canada who have difficulties to communicate. The visit to London was his first to Europe since his marriage to Kim Phuc. When both are traveling Kim's parents take care of their two sons. They joined them in Canada in 1998.

In 1999 the book of Kim Phuc's life, "The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photographer and the Vietnam War" by Denise Chong was published by Viking, in the Penguin Publishing Group, Canada. Editions in the U.S.A. and Britain will follow in mid-2000. It is the story of the "napalm girl" as she struggles to reclaim her life.

Not Yet Ready to Return to Vietnam. 
Kim Phuc's family in Canada.

Kim Phuc has not visited her homeland since leaving in 1986. "I am not ready yet, financially or emotionally," she said Tuesday, June 27, 2000. "Some day, I'll go. Now I'm just happy to be free."

Kim Phuc, who was successfully treated for her burns in West Germany (her medical treatment was arranged and financially supported by the magazine Der Stern ) later studied and married a fellow student, Bui Huy Toan in Havana, Cuba. 

They both defected to the West in 1992, stepping off during a refueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, during a flight between Moscow to Havana, Cuba.

She now lives with her husband Bui Huy Toan, her two boys Thomas (6) and Stephen (3) in  a small apartment in Toronto, Canada. 

Kim Phuc has become a catholic and goes to church.

In the late nineties the family was joined by her parents Mr. Phan The Ngoc (75) and Mrs. Do Ngoc Nu  (69).