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Iconic Vietnam War ‘napalm girl’ photo turns 40

FILE - In this June 8 1972 file phocrying children including 9-year-old Kim Phuc center run down Route 1 near

FILE - In this June 8, 1972 file photo, crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places as South Vietnamese forces from the 25th Division walk behind them. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. From left, the children are Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim's cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

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The Vietnam War had been raging for years. On June 8, 1972, a single photo communicated the horrors of the fighting in a way words could never describe, helping to end one of the most divisive conflicts in American history.

Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut heard the little girl’s screams and couldn’t turn away. In the time of film and darkrooms, the 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer didn’t know the power of the image he had just taken, but he knew what he had to do. He drove the badly burned child to a small hospital. There, he was told she was too far gone to help. But Nick flashed his American press badge, demanded that doctors treat the girl and left assured that she would not be forgotten.

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning image, children run screaming from a burning Vietnamese village. The little girl in the center of the frame, Kim Phuc, is naked and crying, her clothes and layers of skin melted away by napalm.

“I cried when I saw her running,” said Ut, whose older brother was killed on assignment with the AP in the southern Mekong Delta.

Now, four decades later, Nick Ut and Kim Phuc remain close. “I knew in my dream that one day Uncle Ut could help me to have freedom,” said Phuc, referring to him by an affectionate Vietnamese term.

“Most of the people, they know my picture, but there’s very few that know about my life,” Kim Phuc said. “I’m so thankful that ... I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice. Then I can work with it for peace.”

“Today, I’m so happy I helped Kim,” said Ut, who still works for AP and recently returned to Trang Bang village. “I call her my daughter.”



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