Kim Phuc and Nick Ut Meet Again

by Horst Faas and Marianne Fulton

During the war Nick Ut visited Kim Phuc several times after she had returned to her home village of Trang Bang in November 1972. "I used to stop by and ask how Kim was doing. The family was living in a smaller house." He said.

When the fall of Saigon to North Vietnamese troops was imminent Nick Ut was evacuated and finally landed in the United States.

He met Kim Phuc again - it was seventeen years after the dramatic day in Trang Bang and fourteen years since he saw her last a few weeks before the end of the war.

"The Los Angeles Times Magazine wanted to do a story about Kim Phuc and me and I told them that Kim is in Cuba, studying Spanish and being trained as a pharmacist. So we went to Cuba, and I saw Kim again. She introduced me to her fiancee, a student from North Vietnam." Nick explains. She married Bui Huy Toan in Cuba.

Reminiscing about the 1989 re-union in Havana while meeting again in London a few weeks ago Kim Phuc said: "For many months in hospital I just lived in great pain. I cannot remember much, just the pain. But then the pain subsided, and I could go back home to Trang Bang. For the first time I really looked at myself, and my first thought was that with a scarred body like mine I would never have a boyfriend. Fortunately that wasn't so - and I could introduce 'Uncle Nick' to my boyfriend, who is now my husband and father of my two sons."

A Korean friend of the couple paid for a honeymoon vacation out of Cuba in Moscow in 1992. On the return flight from Moscow to Havana both Kim Phuc and her husband defected. After they had walked off the plane in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada, Nick Ut talked to Kim Phuc on the phone. "She was so happy," said Nick Ut. 

Nick Ut  visits Kim Phuc and her family often in Toronto. "Kim and I are almost like family, she calls me "uncle" and I talk with her almost every week" he said. 

Who Dropped the Bombs?

The story of the heart wrenching "Napalm Girl" photograph was accurately and in detail reported in the immediate aftermath of the incident. The news agency and newspaper stories, including those of Peter Arnett and Fox Butterfield reported independently that the incident was involving only Vietnamese and happened during an all-Vietnamese fight.  The only foreigners, among them also Americans, were the reporters on the scene. 

The airstrike had been requested by a commander of the Vietnamese 25th Army Division and was provided by the exclusively Vietnamese co-ordinated and controlled 518th Vietnamese Airforce Squadron (VNAF), with
Vietnamese pilots in the cockpits. Unlike in previous years of the war both the ground units and the Airforce Squadron had no U.S. advisors attached to them anymore. 

In June 1972 the "Vietnamization" of the war had been almost completed and most American fighting forces and men had been withdrawn. By March 1973 all US combat forces had left Vietnam and the Vietnamese fought on their own, until defeat in 1975.

Since the war ended in 1975 the Vietnam war myth was created that the air-strike was in fact ordered, co-ordinated or even flown by American commanders and pilots. In 1996 a former U.S. Army captain (John Plummer, now a Methodist minister) even claimed and "confessed" to have taken part in the air-strike, later only  claiming to have ordered the attack. His claim was thoroughly investigated and discredited a year later. He had lacked authority to communicate with the Vietnamese Airforce at the time of the incident.

A reader of the International Herald Tribune  in a letter to the editor wrote to end the discussion of the question who dropped the bomb: "it is good for the facts to be set straight. However, the power of the photo has nothing to do with who was responsible. It results from the depiction of the unimaginable pain and suffering that war brings to all who play a role in its ugly chain of events." (Letter by Kevin B. Marvel, Alexander, Virginia, IHT, July 11, 2000).