A Young Girl's Cry for Help
in Vietnam and the Photographer who saved her
are Honored by the London Science Museum
and Queen Elisabeth II.
BY HORST FAAS AND MARIANNE FULTON
On June 8, 1972, children and their families
fled the village of Trang Bang
down Route-1, their bodies seared by napalm.
The young girl screaming, in
particular, was etched onto the world's
mind by the photograph of Huynh
Cong 'Nick' Ut, an AP photographer.
The girl was Phan Thi Kim Phuc.
The photograph showing excruciating pain
and death has become a
photographic icon, an antiwar rallying
point and a symbol of hope. The
photograph rightly stands among a few
honorable and memorable images of the
last 150 years of photojournalism.
The article and photographs show, for the
first time, the well known image
among the others taken before and after
the incident. We will hear from the
participants of the time - Kim Phuc, Nick
Ut and others in interviews
gathered by Horst Faas.
The occasion which brought the participants
together was the opening of the
large exhibition at the London Science
Museum, "Making the Modern World",
part of the new Wellcome Center. The large
display was organized by senior
curator Andrew Nahum and officially opened
by Queen Elisabeth II.
In preparing the exhibit, senior curator
Andrew Nahum said he looked at
many famous photographs "but I couldn't
persuade myself that any of them
had the emotional power of the Kim Phuc
" More than just showing the iconic image,
we went to unpack the history
around it," Nahum said. So the exhibition
identifies other children in the
photo, including Kim's older brother who
lost an eye, but survived to live
until this day in Trang Bang.
There are also pictures of the two children related to Kim Phuc who
died shortly after the incident from napalm
The picture taken near the village of Trang
Bang in South Vietnam on June
8, 1972, thrust the burned, screaming
youngster into photographic history.
The London "Observer" Sunday paper calls
the photograph "the most haunting
image of the horror of war since Goya"
in their review of the exhibit (by
science writer Deyan Sudjic).
Next to Ut's Leica M2 camera, manufactured
in 1965, and the 35mm Summicron
lens stands one of the Muirhead picture
transmitters used to transmit
photographs on radio-waves to the world
from the Vietnam conflict. The
camera is shown in a case not far from
the German V2 rocket of 1945 and
Stephenson's Rocket of 1829.
Stretched over four floors, the new 50
million Pounds Sterling ($ 75
million) Wellcome Wing of the London Science
Museum presents the new
exhibition (since June 27,2000) with a
vast display of technology 's iconic
images and inventions from the past 200
years. There are also displays on
genetics, digital technology, bio-medicine
and artificial intelligence
linking history with current developments.
Queen Elisabeth II meets Kim Phuc and Nick
Queen Elisabeth II toured London Science
Museum before officially opening
the Wellcome Wing and the exhibit "Making
the Modern World".
"Is that really you?" the Queen said, when
she saw the now 37-year old Phan
Thi Kim Phuc standing next to her picture
from 1972, clad in a black silk
traditional Vietnamese Ao Dai tunic and
trousers. Beside Kim stood
photographer Nick Ut and Horst Faas, AP's
Saigon photo editor in 1972, who
had selected and transmitted the photograph.
Behind Kim stood her husband
Bui Huy Toan.
The two women chatted for several minutes.
Stefan Klein, London correspondent of the
renowned Sueddeutsche Zeitung
wrote of the meeting:
" She has suffered a lot and sometimes Kim Phuc thought she won't
manage to live on. However, now she stood
there, a smiling Asian woman,
deep in conversation with the British
Queen, who may have wondered how
during the journey of a lifetime a bridge
can be built from horror and
dread to peace and forgiving, all personified
in one human being".
Klein continues: " The photographer was
also a human being: It was he who
poured water over the wounds of the burned
girl and he drove her to a
hospital where her life was saved."
Kim Phuc, now a United Nations goodwill ambassador working for
world peace. Kim Phuc was asked by the
Queen about the picture and her life
Kim said: "I told her it seemed
a long time ago."
The Impact of the Kim Phuc Picture
From Press Reviews of the Exhibit
Martin Woollacott, a former Vietnam correspondent
wrote about a display of
the exhibition's photographs in the London
Daily Telegraph (27 June 2000):
" Nick Ut's photograph
had an extraordinary impact around the world."
"The psychological history of the war
seems inconceivable without this
image. Along with half a dozen other photographs,
it helped at some deep
level to shape the popular feelings which
in turn influenced policy it
deepened the scepticism with which by
the mid-1972, the war was being
Woolacott added: "The image was
so powerful that it was immediately
appropriated by the Vietnamese communists
for propaganda use."
In the International Herald Tribune, from
Thursday June 29, 2000, Tom
Buerkle wrote, "The picture.. For anyone
old enough to remember the Vietnam
War the photograph of the naked 9-year-old
girl running toward a camera
screaming in agony as napalm burned her
flesh is seared into the
"Her image has become a symbol of war
that transcends debate about the
rights or wrongs of U.S. intervention
THE BIGGER PICTURE
Nick Ut recalls the Events of June 8, 1972
By 1972 most U.S. helicopter units
had left Vietnam. It had become more
difficult for reporters to reach the isolated
areas where South Vietnamese
troops, often surrounded by communist
guerrillas and regular north
Vietnamese soldiers, were fighting. It
was a time when AP photographers had
to travel the dangerous roads leading
out of Saigon, Danang or Pleiku
towards areas where fighting took place.
At dawn of June 8, 1972, about 5 AM, photographer Nick Ut loaded
his camera gear, field survival kit, flak-jacket
and steel-helmet into one
of the AP's Japanese made minibuses (the
AP correspondents called them '
command modules') parked outside the Eden
Building, where the AP's Saigon
office was. He wore a Vietnamese Marines
style uniform with the nametags
'Bao Chi' (for 'Press'), Nick Ut and Associated
Press. He carried no
weapon. The vehicle had an assigned Vietnamese
driver, who would always
stay with the car, while the photographer
would usually wander off with
Nick travelled alone that day, without
a correspondent. It had been
reported that traffic on Route-1 had been
interdicted by North Vietnamese
troops - and it was Nick's assignment
to reach the South Vietnamese units
that had been sent there to engage the
enemy and re-open the road. Nick
asked the driver to head north - west,
past Tan Son Nhut airport and onto
Route-1, which leads from Saigon towards
the Cambodian border.
At the city limits both Nick and the driver
put on their flak-jackets: the
open areas between villages along Route-1
with their paddies and hedgerows
were sniper territory. Their vehicle soon
mingled with buses and commercial
vehicles which also set out for travel
at day break. During the night the
roads were unsafe and abandoned.
By 7:30 AM Nick Ut had reached the outskirts
of the village Trang Bang
(about 25 miles WNW of Saigon) and his
driver joined a long queue of
waiting vehicles: Less than a mile away
North Vietnamese troops still
controlled a section of Route 1 in Trang
Bang. Soldiers of the Vietnamese
25th Division had fanned out around the
village and tried to sweep through
"We passed hundreds of refugees fleeing
the village. They cooked and slept
outside the village, hoping to return
when the fighting stopped. It was the
third day of fighting in the area."
Ut later reported.
Nick left the car, introduced himself to
one of the battalion commanders
and then joined the troops. There were
some firefights and casualties
ensued. As the troops approached the village
across the paddy fields
civilians emerged to flee towards the
South Vietnamese lines. Nick Ut was
instantly at work, photographing the soldiers,
desperate refugees and early
artillery and air-strike support for the
soldiers whose advance had
About noon the field commander of the Vietnamese
troops outside Trang Bang
asked for additional air support from
South Vietnam Airforce units based at
Bien Hoa, some 15 miles away.
Nick made his way back to Route-1, waiting
like the soldiers, the
travellers caught in their cars in the
traffic jam outside Trang Bang, and
a flock of other reporters for the planes
to arrive and perform their
bombing runs. A yellow smoke grenade
was thrown by a soldier marking the
target area for the approaching Skyraiders,
Korean-war vintage planes.
Trang Bang had fallen silent - and the
speculation was that the North
Vietnamese and their Vietcong allies had
already withdrawn - a pattern
familiar to experienced observers of the
When the planes arrived overhead at about
1:00 PM reporters and soldiers
stood upright, watching. Nobody at that
time believed that even communist
snipers were left behind. The monsoon
rain had stopped.
Nick met fellow reporters and friends who
like him frequently ran the
dangerous roads to find battles: There
was David Burnett, from Time
Magazine, Ut's Vietnamese photographer
friend Hoang Van Danh, a freelancer
who would work for both United Press International
(UPI) and AP (he now
lives in Switzerland) and television
teams from the BBC, ITN, NBC and
other news organizations.
The rest is photographic history: The two
Skyraider aircraft of the VNAF
bombed the edge of the village, near the
Cai Dai pagoda, in a familiar
pattern - first explosive bombs, then
incendiary bombs - large containers
with a mix of explosives, white phosphorus
and the black oily napalm - and
ending up with heavy machinegun fire during
closing strafing runs. Then the
planes disappeared - nobody had heard
any anti-aircraft fire.
And then the terrified, burned and wounded
villagers came running from the
village, towards the line of soldiers
and reporters standing across the
Nick Ut recalled in a 1999 interview: "When
we (the reporters) moved closer
to the village we saw the first people
running. I thought 'Oh my God' when
I suddenly saw a woman with her left leg
badly burned by napalm. Then came
a woman carrying a baby, who died, then
another woman carrying a small
child with it's skin coming off. When
I took a picture of them I heard a
child screaming and saw that young girl
who had pulled off all her burning
clothes. She yelled to her brother on
her left. Just before the napalm was
dropped soldiers (of the South Vietnamese
Army) had yelled to the children
to run but there wasn't enough time."
Nick Ut used two cameras to photograph
the scenes in front of him - his
Leica and a Nikon with a long lens.
Not far from him stood NBC cameraman Le
Phuc Dinh, who along with Ut is
credited to have produced the best documentation
of Phan Thi Kim Phuc's
desperate run down Route-1. Le Phuc Dinh,
who is shown at work in one of
Nick Ut's pictures, used a 16mm film and
sound on film camera.
Both David Burnett and Hoang van Danh changed
film in their cameras during
the peak moments of the action. Danh managed
a few pictures when Kim Phuc
had reached the line of photographers
and soldiers and sold a few of them
to UPI. "Nicky, you got all the
photos," said David Burnett.
Nick Ut recalls that Kim Phuc screamed
"Nong qua, nong qua" ("too hot, too
hot") as he photographed her running past
him. When the girl had stopped
Nick Ut and ITN correspondent Christopher
Wain poured water from their
canteens over her burns.
Kim Phuc's relatives gathered around her
and the reporters. Nick Ut heard
her saying to her also injured older brother
Phan Thanh Tam, " I think I am
going to die".
(Tam is seen in Ut's award winning picture,
running alongside her, at
Kim Phuc's parents were still hiding inside
the Cao Dai pagoda.
Urged on by Kim Phuc's uncle, Nick commandeered
his car, and being one of
the few reporters able to communicate
with the injured villagers he took
over and carried Kim Phuc into the car.
Then other members of her family -
her younger brother Phan Thanh Phuoc (5),
her older brother Tam (13), her
uncle and an aunt rushed into the car.
Ut climbed aboard the now
overcrowded minibus last and ask the driver
to speed towards the provincial
Vietnamese hospital in Cu Chi, halfway
"I am thirsty, I am thirsty, I need water"
Kim Phuc continued to cry. When
the van moved Kim Phuc screamed out loud,
obviously in great pain and then
lost consciousness. Nick, beside her,
tried to console her saying "don't
worry, we will reach hospital very soon".
They reached the hospital within the hour. The doctors and nurses
there had seen and treated burn and shrapnel
wounds for many years. Even in
situations when the hospital's emergency
wards were suddenly overcrowding
with war injured an atmosphere of quiet
medical professionalism prevailed
rather than panic and confusion. Nick
Ut knew very well that the doctors
would attend first those whose lives could
most likely be saved, and put
others, who were expected to die, aside
for later treatment.
It was a battlefield experience Nick Ut
had often shared with soldiers and
He pleaded with the doctors and nurses
to take care of Phan Thi Kim Phuc -
and they did. Ut told them what he had
seen on Route-1, what he had
photographed and that he expected his
pictures to be published everywhere.
Only when Kim Phuc was on the operating table did Nick Ut leave the
hospital and head towards Saigon, to bring
his film to the AP.
When a newsman later de-briefed Nick Ut for a by-line story of what
he had experienced on Route-1, Nick did
not mention that he helped Kim
It was 28 years later, in London,
that Kim Phuc said in front of the
Queen: "He saved my life".
Kim Phuc talks about the incident of June
Kim Phuc said in London:
"I see the picture and the documentary (referring to a film that
was made about her life in 1997). That
makes me remember all the time. I
saw the airplane. I saw the fire. I got
burned. I was so scared and crying
and running out of the fire."
Kim Phuc added later:
"Panicking under the fire I suddenly realised that my feet had not
been burned. At least I could run away.
If my feet wound have been burned I
would have died in the fire."
Kim Phuc does not try to avoid memories. She wants to see the
photograph exposed to future generations.
"Let the world see how horrible
wars can be", Tom Buerkle of the IHT quotes
Rather than returning with his eight rolls of film directly to the
AP office in Saigon Nick Ut did not hesitate
to load Kim Phuc with some
members of her family into the AP's minibus
and drive her to the provincial
hospital in Cu Chi.
Nick Ut recalled in London, 28 years later, with Kim Phuc standing
beside him: "When we reached there the
hospital was overcrowded with war
injured people. I had the impression that
the emergency nurse who received
us intended to hospitalise Kim Phuc, but
not rush her to be treated -
considering her a hopeless case and to
die sooner or later. I got through
to a doctor and explained who I was, what
I had photographed and that Kim
Phuc needs immediate help."
Kim Phuc said in London about Nick Ut:"
He saved my life. He's wonderful,
isn't. he? I am so grateful that he didn't
only do his job, but he's a
human being helping another."
Kim Phuc now calls Huynh Cong 'Nick' Ut
her 'Uncle Ut'.
However, the happy ending in London was
preceded by endless years while
doctors fought for her life. Her chin
was molded to her chest, caused by
burn wounds. Her left arm was almost lost,
except for the bones and scarred
flesh. Seventeen operations were necessary
to give Kim Phuc a life back
Today Kim says she knows no hate. "If I
could talk to the pilot who dropped
the bomb," she said," I would say that
we can' t alter history."
Pilot and plane were part of the 518th
Squadron of the South Vietnamese
Airforce (VNAF) based in Bien Hoa.
The family of Kim Phuc - in Nick Ut's pictures
Phan Thi Kim Phuc had seven brothers and
sisters between the ages of 18 and
1 years old at the time of the June 8,
1972 air raid in which she was
Her parents - the father Phan Thanh Tung
and mother Du Ngoc Nu owned a
small roadside restaurant and some land
just behind the Cao Dai pagoda. The
members of the family were at the time
believers of the Cao Dai religion, a
faith combining elements of Christianity,
Buddhism and Taoism, founded in
the region west of Saigon in the early
The family had not fled when North Vietnamese
troops showed up in Trang
Bang. They were not aware until the very
last moment that they would be in
the target area of an air strike which
was aimed at North Vietnamese troops
but mistakenly caught unaware civilians.
In Nick's award winning picture other members
of her family run alongside
At left, screaming in agony from an eye
injury is her then 12-year old
brother Phan Thanh Tam. A bit behind is
her youngest brother Phan Thanh
Phuoc , then 5 years old and not seriously
injured in the raid. At right
are Kim Phu's small cousins Ho Van Bo,
a boy, and Ho Thi Ting, a girl.
Other pictures show Kim Phuc's aunt, Nguyen Thi Xi, carrying the
nine-months old boy Phan Can Cuong and
her grandmother Ly Thi Tho with the
three year old Phan Van Danh - both distant
relatives of Kim Phuc.
Cuong and Danh were the two fatal casualties
of the raid. Danh died in Kim
Phuc grandmother's arms, Cuong died ten
days later from burns.
How the Picture reached the World
The photograph reached the newspapers around
the world only after passing
through a gauntlet of human decisions
and technical difficulties. The
technology used to produce and transmit
the photograph appears antique
Nick Ut's eight rolls of Kodak 400 ASA
black and white films were developed
in the lab of the Saigon AP office by
the Japanese photographer ' Ishizaki
Jackson', a known AP Tokyo news photographer
at this time. The development
solutions (Ilford Microfen developer and
self-mixed fixative) were stored
in large food jars. Since the temperatures
of the chemicals were rarely
below 30 degree centigrade the processing
time was relatively short and the
film had to be slowly moved at all times,
by hand, like slow-motion
laundering. The films were then dried
in a special cabinet with hairdryers
rigged up and switched in a way as not
to damage could the swelling
Nick and Ishizaki prepared a selection of eight 5*7 inch prints for
the next "radio photo cast" at 5 PM -
but an editor at the AP rejected the
photo of Kim Phuc running down the road
without clothing because it showed
frontal nudity. Pictures of nudes of all
ages and sexes, and especially
frontal views were an absolute no-no at
the Associated Press in 1972. While
the argument went on in the AP bureau,
writer Peter Arnett and Horst Faas,
then head of the Saigon photo department,
came back from an assignment.
Horst argued by telex with the New York
head-office that an exception must
be made, with the compromise that no close-up
of the girl Kim Phuc alone
would be transmitted.
The New York photo editor, Hal Buell,
agreed that the news value of the
photograph overrode any reservations about
The photo was then electrically transmitted, line by line, in 14
minutes, on a manually dialed radio-phone
call with a Muirhead K220
transmitter with a supplementary AM/FM
converter. AP had this equipment
stationed next to the switchboard at the
Saigon PTT's (Post and Telegraph)
telephone exchange in Saigon. The radio
conditions were favourable that day
and the picture, along with three other
photographs of then incident
reached the Tokyo photo bureau of The
Associated Press. From Tokyo the
radio signal coming from Saigon was auto-relayed
on AP controlled land and
submarine wire communications circuits
to New York and London, and from
there to AP offices and newspapers around
AP' bureau chief Richard Pyle recalled in an April 2000 interview
that Horst Faas said "I think we have
another Pulitzer here" when he looked
at Ut's film through his magnifying glass
in 1972. Horst added in the same
interview: "It remains one of the most
perfect news photos I have seen in
my fifty years in photo journalism."
The Camera and Lens used by Nick Ut for
his Pulitzer winning photograph.
To shoot his Pulitzer prize winning photograph
Huynh Cong 'Nick Ut' used
the Leica M-2 body with the serial number
1923019 with a 35mm Summicron
lens, serial number 1923019.
It had not been AP's practice in 1972
to equip staff photographers with the
German-made Leitz (Leica) cameras and
lenses. Nikon equipment was the
standard AP issue. However, every staff
photographer of AP in Vietnam,
eventually used his "own Leica" equipment,
following the example of Horst
Faas, who arrived in Vietnam in
June 1962 with his "own" Leica equipment
coming from an assignment in Algeria.
Expense accounts and some fudging in the
acquisition of "capital
investments", i.e. cameras, lenses etc.,
in Hong Kong or from the black
market in Saigon helped the photographers
get their high-quality Leica
cameras and lenses.
Nick Ut's elder brother, who died in battle
in October 1965 used, of
course, a Leica camera. Thus it was only
natural that his little brother Ut
eventually also had his own Leica. When
Nick Ut was evacuated from Vietnam
at the end of the war he took the camera
and lens with him - and used both
until the late eighties. He only lost
his 50mm Leica lens in the hasty
flight from Vietnam in 1975.
Other equipment used to shoot scenes around
the "Kim Phuc incident"
included a Nikon F body, with 200mm, 300mm
and a wide-angle lens.
The Leica and 35mm Summicron are today
exhibited at the Science Museum in
London, along with Nick's pictures and
a wirephoto drum transmitter of the
Muirhead K220 type that transmitted Ut's
photographs from Saigon into the
world on radio waves.
A check with the Leitz archives in Germany
showed that Nick Ut's camera was
produced in Germany in 1965.
POSTSCRIPT - AFTER THE WAR ENDED
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
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
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
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).
Kim Phuc and Nick Ut meet again
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
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
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.
Nick Ut - still a Photographer with the
Base: Los Angeles
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
"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
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 recognised photographs of the conflict
in Vietnam, winning
journalism's highest honour, 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
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
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
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
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
In November 1997 Kim Phuc was named by
Director General Frederico Mayor a
Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and
Cultural Organisation (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
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 travelling 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
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 refuelling
stop in Gander, Newfoundland, Canada,
during a flight between Moscow to
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
In the late nineties the family was joined
by her parents Mr. Phan The Ngoc
(75) and Mrs. Do Ngoc Nu (69).
April 2000 - Trang Bang revisited
(Excerpts from an AP story, April 26, 2000)
^PM-Vietnam-Nick Returns, Bjt,626<
^By +RICHARD+ +PYLE+=
^Associated Press Writer=
^ ¶ TRANG BANG, Vietnam
(AP) _ 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
¶ "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
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
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 - rest
material that somehow ended up in Tokyo.
He now has both in his private
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.
End - (Copyright 2000)