Forty years ago today, on June 8, 1972, a plane of the South Vietnamese Air Force bombed the village of Trang Bang, near Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) in South Vietnam. Trang Bang had been recently occupied by the North Vietnamese Army. A group of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers were leaving a Cao Đài
temple and a South Vietnamese pilot mistook them for enemy troops. He bombed the group. The bombs contained napalm, a highly flammable fuel widely used in the Vietnam War. The fire killed and badly burned several people on the ground.
Among them was Kim Phuc Phan Thi, a 9-year-old girl, who was with her family at the pagoda attending a religious celebration. Relatives of Kim Phuc were killed by the attack.
"Suddenly I saw fire around me and it burned my clothes. I was very scared and began to cry. I tried to run away from there,"
recalled Kim Phuc in an interview with radio station Cadena-3
of Argentina (Spanish and English).
"I ran and ran until I saw people in front of me. I felt very hot, thirsty and asked for help. They gave me water to drink and wet my body, and I lost consciousness".
The person who helped Kim Phuc was 24 year-old Huynh Cong Ut
(a.k.a. Nick Ut), an Associated Press photographer who was able to capture the moment with his camera. The impressive picture showing the heart-breaking image of the crying, naked girl was published a day later by the New York Times
, it won a Pulitzer Prize for Nick Ut, was chosen as the World Press Photo of the Year in 1972, obtained many other awards, and it is among the top 10 world’s most famous photos
. In later years it also became a symbol of the horrors of the Vietnam War and the cruelty of all wars for children and civilian victims.
Also at the scene were journalists Alan Downes (ITN - Independent Television News) and Le Phuc Dinh (NBC - National Broadcasting Company). They captured a couple of minutes of film showing what happened there just before and after Nick Ut took his famous picture. The video is shown above.
Kim remained hospitalized for 14 months until she recovered from the burns. Later in her life, she studied in Cuba where she met Bui Huy Toan, another Vietnamese student whom she married. In 1992, she successfully applied for political asylum in Canada
. In 1994, UNESCO designated Kim Phuc a Goodwill Ambassador for Peace. In 2004, Kim Phuc was awarded the "Order of Ontario"
and she is also a recipient of the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal.
Kim Phuc lives in the Toronto area, ON, Canada, with her husband and two children, Thomas and Stephen. She has dedicated her life to promoting peace and, through the Kim Foundation International
, to provide medical and psychological support to help children who are victims of war in Uganda, East Timor, Romania, Tajikistan, Kenya, Ghana and Afghanistan.
A 40th Anniversary Tribute Dinner
in honour of Kim Phuc Phan Thi is scheduled for Friday June 8, 2012 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, Toronto.