Saturday, September 29, 2018

The girl from the photo: the story behind a symbol of the Vietnam War

At age 55, Kim Phuc Phan Thi tells of her trajectory after the chemical attack that left her with scars all over her body



An image marks the Vietnam War  since 1972. With her arms wide open, her naked body burned and the expression of terror on her face, a girl struck by a chemical bomb has become the symbol of the conflict that has killed more than 2 million Vietnamese, many of them civilians, and 58,000 American s"No child should suffer as I suffered," says the 55-year-old Vietnamese woman who runs an aid organization for children in conflict areas. "At that moment, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. But now I'm in the right place at the rThe girl used her right hand to try to get the flammable substance out of her arm and ended up also burning her other side. Kim remembers that, at that moment, she was very frightened and scared. He ran from the fire toward his brothers and cousins, alongside some soldiers.
This was the image that Nick Ut, an Associated Press photographer, captured with his camera, strategically mounted on the road.
That image was one of many that Ut took from that conflict, although this was the one that marked his career and still earned him the Pulitzer Prize. To the left of Kim, in the photo, are two of his brothers and, to the right side, two cousins.ight time. I found my purpose. "ldiers.
The girl in the photo is Kim Phuc Phan Thi. At 9, she had a large part of her back, neck, and left arm burned by a chemical called napalm. The attack that struck it was commanded by US-backed South Vietnam forces against the village of Trang Bang at the time occupied by the North Vietnamese troops.
Today, she lives in Canada alongside her children, her husband and her parents. In a visit to Brazil, 46 years after that tragedy, Kim released his autobiography, "The Girl from the Picture - My Memories: From the Horror of the War to the Path to Peace", that after years of suffering and hatred, she finally found peace. This mother of two realized that she could use her photo to drive a campaign against violence.
"As a child, I wished that photo had never been taken. Until I became a mother and held my son in my arms for the first time, "Kim told VEJA. I realized that the image was a powerful gift with which I could work to achieve peace, "he says
In June 1972, after Trang Bang was invaded by the Viet Cong - as the soldiers who fought alongside North Vietnam became known - Kim's family took shelter in a religious temple near their home. On the 8th, the South Vietnamese launched a major attack on the village, and all who took refuge there had to flee.
The girl, her cousins and brothers rushed toward a large road that cut through the village called Highway 1. It was right there that the South Vietnamese military planes overturned the napalm bombs, supposedly hoping to reach enemy troops.
"We heard the soldiers screaming that we had to run as fast as we could," says Kim. "When I got on Highway 1, I saw the planes flying toward me, making a lot of noise. I thought I should run, but it was frozen. "
"At that moment, I saw with my own eyes four bombs falling and then the fire around me," he reports. "The fire destroyed all my clothes, so I was so burned on the back, the neck and the left arm. "
The girl used her right hand to try to get the flammable substance out of her arm and ended up also burning her other side. Kim remembers that, at that moment, she was very frightened and scared. He ran from the fire toward his brothers and cousins, alongside some soldiers.
This was the image that Nick Ut, an Associated Press photographer, captured with his camera, strategically mounted on the road.
That image was one of many that Ut took from that conflict, although this was the one that marked his career and still earned him the Pulitzer Prize. To the left of Kim, in the photo, are two of his brothers and, to the right side, two cousins.
"We kept running, crying and screaming, but I got so tired I had to stop," says Kim. In desperation, she screamed "too hot, too hot! "As he felt the napalm stick and devour his skin.
One of the journalists who accompanied the scene gave something to the girl to drink and spilled water on her back, making her lose consciousness. Without knowing it, it ended up worsening his injuries, since the reaction of the chemical with the oxygen burned even more deeply the skin of Kim. With the help of a known doctor, she was relocated to a facility for burn victims.
Noticing that the situation had worsened, Nick Ut took the injured children in their lap, put them in his van, and started for the nearest hospital. The girl arrived in critical condition at the center, and doctors, without much resources, considered her dead. The young woman was sent directly to the morgue, where she spent three days until her mother found her.
"There was a boy lying on the next bed. His wounds took so long to be treated, that worms now reeled in his flesh. Some time later, Mom told me that some of those worms had found my bed and reached my face and my internal organs, which were exposed, "she described in the book. "My skin was starting to rot, filling the air with a disgusting metallic scent."
With the help of a known doctor, she was relocated to a facility for burn victims. In this place, the girl was hospitalized for 14 months and underwent 16 surgeries - she performed the 17th in Germany at the age of 21. In her autobiography, she describes all the pain and suffering she faced, especially in the daily baths to treat burns.
"The painful pangs I felt on those occasions were so unbearable that almost every morning I would faint moments before being put in the tub," he said.
Third and fourth degree burns destroyed all three layers of Kim's skin, as well as some muscles and ligaments. The girl has been in critical condition for about 40 days, and Kim today suffers from severe back and arm pain.
Kim only saw the image that would mark his life when he returned home. "I could only think that I was ugly, I did not understand why the photographer had taken that photo when I was naked, with the ugly face," he says.
At the same time, he met Nick Ut, who came to his house to monitor his progress with the burns. "He became part of my family," she says, which still refers to the photographer who saved her life as "Uncle Ut."
On the day of the bombing, shortly before the planes arrived in the village, Kim played with one of her favorite cousins, Danh, 3. During the flight to the temple, the boy was carried by a soldier who helped the family escape the attack. As soon as the napalm hit the officer's heavy clothes, he and the boy had their bodies burned to the death.
The years after the attack were terrible for Kim. "I left the hospital, but my life seemed like it was starting over," he laments. "I suffered a lot, but not only with the burns. I went through traumas, had nightmares, low self-esteem, lots of hatred and bitterness. "
Kim grew up and was educated by her family in Caodaism, a religion founded in Vietnam. At age 19, while still living in the country, he converted to Christianity.
According to her, it was through her new religion that she found peace and her purpose in life. Today, Kim is a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) and heads her own nongovernmental organization to help children affected by war.
KIM Foundation International provides treatment and prostheses for conflict-affected children and sponsors the construction and maintenance of hospitals, schools and orphanages in various parts of the world. "I do not want to see other Kims suffering like I did," he says.
The Vietnamese also found in prayer a way to forgive all those who did her wrong. In 1996, at a War Veterans Day ceremony in Washington, DC, Kim met with John Plummer, one of the American officers who led the napalm attack on Trang Bang.
The military man, who became a pastor, asked for the forgiveness of the woman he had injured 24 years earlier. "It's all right. I forgive you, "Kim replied

"I had a lot of anger before, even from my scars and all the pain I felt," said VEJA. "When I learned to love and forgive my enemies, my heart was freed from all hatred."
According to Kim Phuc, learning how to forgive her helped lead a lighter life. "I still have pain every day, and that's a big challenge for me. But I discovered how to make this pain my friend, "he says. "Do not focus on suffering, I distract my mind by talking, singing a song and praying," he adds.


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