I went to see Kim Phuc speak the other night. It was a surreal experience to see a woman that is such a large part of history. You just don't think that you will ever meet people like her. I actually spoke to her afterward, shook her hand, and touched her arm that was burned so badly during a napalm attack in the Vietnam War.
Kim Phuc, The Girl in the Picture
The Girl in the Photograph, the Napalm Girl, the little girl who was the focus of what is considered ‘THE' Photo Of the 20th Century is alive and well and living here in Canada. Kim Phuc was the little girl from the Vietnam War whose village was blasted with napalm bombs. The moment was frozen in time as she ran naked with 60% of her body covered in 3rd degree burns. Napalm burns at 800° Celcius, I learned that evening, and she told us of how a soldier tried to ease her pain by pouring water on her burns. We all know now that that only makes it worse and she passed out. After being brought to a hospital, she was left for dead. However, fate intervened, and she is alive and well today and telling her story to the world.
I had first read about Kim Phuc during my travels to Vietnam. Bootleg copies of her book The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phúc were sold all over the tourist route there. Her image, running away from the deadly blast, graces the cover. I was fascinated with the story. I read about her recovery: 14 months in the hospital. I read about the years in which she was exploited by her government as propaganda and paraded around the media, I read about her childhood and I read about how after the war, she lived and studied in Cuba. It had more impact on me because I was in Vietnam at the time. I was visiting places where fighting actually took place. I had visited the Cu Chi tunnels and the War Remnants Museum, DMZ Zone, and the Mekong Delta. I was seeing history as I was reading about it. Kim Phuc, the girl in the picture, is such a strong symbol of the Vietnam war.
And then I came to the part in the book where she convinced the government to let her go on her honeymoon to Moscow. Being another communist country, she was allowed to travel there. She had a stop in Gander Newfoundland, Canada, on her return flight and it was there that she defected to Canada. Wow, the lady that I was reading about while I was in Vietnam now lives in Canada.
It was a good book and it always stuck with me. So when Dave's mom asked me if I knew who Kim Phuc was and if I would be interested in going to see her speak, I immediately said yes! It was hard to believe that she lived less than an hour away from me. Growing up during the 70's and 80's, Vietnam was everywhere. I loved the movies Uncommon Valor, Apocalypse Now, First Blood, and of course Platoon. I never really connected with their historical value, I just enjoyed their stories. Vietnam seemed so far away, and at that young age, it seemed like it happened a long time ago. At the age of 10 when I watched Magnum PI talk about “Nam” with his buddies on TV, I never really thought about the fact that he was talking about a war that was less than a decade old then.
So, when I grew up and went to Vietnam, I was amazed to be in a place that I saw portrayed in so many movies and TV shows. Then, it was even stranger to see a woman here in Canada that I first read about while in Vietnam.
I saw Kim Phuc: The Girl in the Picture, proud Vietnamese/Canadian, speak the other night in Burlington Ontario. She is a beautiful, humble, soft spoken, yet riveting and powerful woman. She told her story to 500 women. As the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for peace and founder of the Kim Phuc Foundation, she moved us all to tears. And yet she also made us laugh and smile, and she spread a powerful message of forgiveness. I admired her strength and courage.
I was impressed with her public speaking skills and natural ability to inspire as well. Many people have a story to tell, but cannot tell it in a gripping way. Kim started her speech by saying “I believe everyone has a story to tell, but tonight it is my turn.” And tell a story she did.
She told of surviving a Napalm Blast, being left for dead, and then being rescued and sent to a hospital in Saigon. She spent 16 months in excruciating pain and wanted to die. When she returned home, she was afraid that she would never be loved and was in constant pain. She told of how she wanted to become a doctor, but how her education was interrupted by her government who decided to use her as property of the state and exploited her to the media. She was watched 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and had no freedom. She talked how once again, during that time, she wanted to die. She talked about how she eventually made her way to Cuba (another communist country) which led her, eventually, to Canada.
She is friends with Nick Ut, the man who took her picture and saved her life. More amazingly, she has met the man that coordinated the attacks on her village. Incredibly, they are now good friends and she has forgiven him and he has forgiven himself. Powerful stuff.
Her story is truly one of triumph. She has managed to bring all of her family to Canada from Vietnam, she now travels the world spreading peace, she gives aid to those in need starting her own foundation, and she speaks regularly, inspiring so many people from all over the world. If she can survive and thrive, well, why can't we? She still suffers from chronic pain and has the scars to prove it. But, in her words (now, I am paraphrasing, but this was her message)… She is lucky to have had her photo taken. She will not forget the millions of other people weren't so lucky and she is grateful for the opportunity to travel the world, provide a good life for her family, spread a positive message, and live a happy life.
I won't tell you her full story, because you should read her book. You can buy The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phúc on Amazon.