Epilogue: Trang Bang Revisited, April 2000

Excerpts from an AP story, April 26, 2000
by Richard Pyle, Associated Press writer

TRANG BANG, Vietnam - A lot has changed around this fork in the road since the day in 1972 when napalm exploded next to the Cao Dai temple and Phan Thi Kim Phuc fled, blistered and screaming, into photographic history.

The highway has been widened, the temple is larger and has a fresh coat of yellow paint. Kim Phuc's brother, Phan Thanh Tam - the one with his mouth in a crescent of agony in the famed photo that encapsulated the war's horrors - is now 41 and has a paunch. He runs an open-air coffee shack on the very spot where a South Vietnamese bomb hit on June 8, 1972.

Tam says he still has nightmares about the incident.

But he was all smiles Tuesday when Associated Press photographer Huynh Cong "Nick" Ut returned to the village of Trang Bang

"The girl was running, with her arms out. She was crying, Nong qua! Nong qua!' (Too hot! Too hot!). She had torn off all her clothes," Ut said. "When I saw she was burned, I dropped my camera beside the road. I knew I had a good picture. I got her into our van and took her and the family to the Cu Chi hospital."

The picture, and that act of mercy, established a bond between Ut and Kim Phuc "I always feel very sad when I come back here - I feel sad for Kim Phuc, her family and the other people who got hurt," he said.

Tam's earnings from the small roadside restaurant are so meager that he recently had to disconnect his phone, relying on letters to keep in touch with his sister in Canada. But he continues to draw a kind of pride from the tragedy of 1972.

"Many people come here to hear the story," Tam said, holding up a Spanish-language magazine spread of Ut's pictures, and thumbing into his wallet for the business cards of recent journalist-visitors .

"When I think about the war," he added, speaking through an interpreter. "I think about Kim Phuc, and about the picture."

What happened to Nick Ut's original film?

From eight rolls of 35mm/36 exposure film on June 8, 1972 
to thirty-one preserved negatives today.

When Nick Ut returned to the Saigon bureau of Associated Press in the afternoon of June 8, 1972 he brought back eight rolls of black and white Kodak film (400 ASA) from the events around Trang Bang on that day, more than 240 exposures. 

Most of the original film has disappeared. 

Some was discarded already in Saigon or returned to Nick Ut. In line with AP's policy at the time all possibly useful negatives were forwarded to New York headquarters: This included material selected in the first and second editing process in Saigon and most of the negatives not used. In New York the photo desk passed the material to the Photo Library - to be eventually discarded there, most likely in a big clean-out after the end of the Vietnam war. Negatives of pictures that were used for the wires were archived. 

Today twelve negatives of the "Kim Phuc incident" remain with AP. They are locked in a safe and rarely touched. The Pulitzer winning negative (1973 award) shows a major scratch across the sky in the upper part of the negative. The original image has been digitally reconstructed and full-size and cropped print versions of the picture are now produced from this digital information.

The pictures used and transmitted from the original film in June 1972 are preserved in the AP's digital archive.

After the war Huynh Cong 'Nick' Ut began a search for the remaining material. Working temporarily in the Tokyo AP office from 1975 - 1977 he found a small selection of prints and nineteen original negatives - material that somehow ended up in Tokyo. He now has both in his private collection. 

The negatives and prints show some of the military operations on the same day, before the "Kim Phuc incident" and add important information to the basic material in the AP Photo Library.