NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, May 15th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.
MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.
Forty-six years ago next month, readers picked up copies of The New York Times and other newspapers around the country. The front page included a shocking image.
What might’ve prompted heartbreak would turn into political outrage. And that photo became a turning point in the Vietnam War.
It put a human face to the suffering.
EICHER: Today, we meet the girl in the photo.
And we will hear her tell of the transforming power of the gospel.
WORLD Radio’s Paul Butler has our story.
PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: AUDIO: Plane roar and napalm drop and kids yelling
On June 8th, 1972, a group of civilians fleeing from North Vietnamese troops take shelter in a village temple. A pilot mistakes them for enemy troops and drops his payload of napalm—a highly flammable jelly substance. Among the victims is a 9-year-old girl named Kim Phuc.
PHUC: I remember hiding in the temple, and then the soldier shouted to us: “run out, run out,” and I remember when I ran I saw four bombs landing down like that. And then, suddenly I saw the fire everywhere around me, and actually the fire burned off my clothes. I saw the fire on my left arm and I use my right hands. I rub it. That’s why I got over, all burned like that. I just ran out of that fire.
It is at this moment when AP photographer Nick Ut snaps what many consider to be the most dramatic photograph of the Vietnam War. Phuc is seen running naked along the road toward the cameraman, her face contorted in agony, her arms spread like featherless wings.
PHUC: I remember one of the soldier, he gave me some water to drink. Then he tried to help me. He pour the water over my body…and the pain was unbelievable.
What the soldier doesn’t know, is that by pouring water on a napalm burn, it makes it much more severe, and the pain is unbearable. Kim Phuc loses consciousness. The burns are so extensive, doctors don’t think she’ll live. But she does—and over the next 14-months, Phuc undergoes 17 surgeries.
PHUC: I suffered great pain and at that time I just cried, and when I couldn’t stand it any longer I would just pass out…a lot of nightmare…
While the physical wounds are extensive, the psychological trauma is even worse.
PHUC: Growing up with that pain, suffering, um, it build me up so much hatred. Every time I look at my scars, I just ask why me? It looks so ugly, black and, and very hard and itching and itchy and, and, pain…
Both the scars and the iconographic photo were daily reminders of her suffering. As her likeness became a powerful propaganda tool, she became more and more bitter.
AUDIO: Coa Dai Temple
Phuc tried finding meaning in Coa Dai, her childhood religion, but instead discovered a deepening emptiness and despair. She often wishing her life would end. But in 1982, she found a New Testament and came to faith in Christ.
PHUC: With His love, His compassion, His wisdom, His peace, His joy, and then He heal my heart.
She says that with that healing, she began praying for those who hurt her, and those who used her.
PHUC: The more I pray for my enemies, the softer my heart became. I had to learn how to trust the Lord and obey Him because He could able to do impossible thing in my life. So I read the Bible, in Jeremiah 33:3 “Call upon me.” Then I obey His word. “Love your enemies. Do good to them.”
In 1996, Kim Phuc got a chance to model that love and forgiveness when she met John Plummer, a soldier who coordinated the airstrike:
PHUC: He came to me, he cry like a child, he couldn’t stop, and he asked me, I am so sorry. I am so sorry. Do you forgive me? And I thank God, He healed my heart. I could be able to say “yes, I do.”
Kim says they have become best friends.
PHUC: We love each other, we pray for each other, we have each other. And I think that is a really reconciliation by God’s grace, that I have been able to do that.
Three years ago, Phuc began laser treatments on her skin. They’ve removed much of the visible scarring. Many would never know by a casual glance that she’s the girl in the photo: But what’s been even more miraculous is the healing of the scars of the heart.
PHUC: All my life I pray a lot. It’s the power of prayer, that God answered my prayer, but I also learned that I have to do something not only praying and then wait for the blessing coming, but my part, I have to do it. And if that little girl can do it, so everyone can do it too, by the grace of God.
Today, Kim Phuc travels the world talking about the power of forgiveness and the Christian call to love one’s enemies.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Paul Butler.
REICHARD: Audio for that story is courtesy of New Zealand’s Shine TV.
Read June Cheng’s profile of Kim Phuc at wng.org.
(Eric Lalmand/AFP/Getty Images) Kim Phuc Phan Thi