Phan Thị Kim Phúc OOnt (Vietnamese pronunciation: [faːŋ tʰɪ̂ˀ kim fúk͡p̚]; born April 2, 1963) is a Vietnamese-Canadian best known as the nine year old child depicted in the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken during the Vietnam War on June 8, 1972. The iconic photo, taken in Trang Bang by AP photographer Nick Ut, shows her at nine years of age running naked on a road after being severely burned on her back by a South Vietnamese napalm attack.
Kim Phúc and her family were residents of the village of Trang Bang, South Vietnam. On June 8, 1972, South Vietnamese planes dropped a napalm bomb on Trang Bang, which had been attacked and occupied by North Vietnamese forces. Kim Phúc joined a group of civilians and South Vietnamese soldiers who were fleeing from the Caodai Temple to the safety of South Vietnamese-held positions. A South Vietnamese Air Force pilot mistook the group for enemy soldiers and diverted to attack. The bombing killed two of Kim Phúc’s cousins and two other villagers. Kim Phúc was badly burned and tore off her burning clothes. Associated Press photographer Nick Ut’s photograph of Kim Phúc running naked amid other fleeing villagers, South Vietnamese soldiers and press photographers became one of the most haunting images of the Vietnam War. In an interview many years later, she recalled she was yelling, Nóng quá, nóng quá (“too hot, too hot”) in the picture. New York Times editors were at first hesitant to consider the photo for publication because of the nudity, but eventually approved it. A cropped version of the photo—with the press photographers to the right removed—was featured on the front page of the New York Times the next day. It later earned a Pulitzer Prize and was chosen as the World Press Photo of the Year for 1972.
After snapping the photograph, Ut took Kim Phúc and the other injured children to Barsky Hospital in Saigon, where it was determined that her burns were so severe that she probably would not survive. After a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures including skin transplantations, however, she was able to return home. A number of the early operations were performed by a Finnish plastic surgeon Aarne Rintala (1926–2014).
Ut continued to visit Kim Phúc until he was evacuated during the fall of Saigon.
Audio tapes of President Richard Nixon, in conversation with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman in 1972, reveal that Nixon mused “I’m wondering if that was fixed” after seeing the photograph. After the release of this tape, Út commented, “Even though it has become one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century, President Nixon once doubted the authenticity of my photograph when he saw it in the papers on 12 June 1972…. The picture for me and unquestionably for many others could not have been more real. The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam War itself. The horror of the Vietnam War recorded by me did not have to be fixed. That terrified little girl is still alive today and has become an eloquent testimony to the authenticity of that photo. That moment thirty years ago will be one Kim Phúc and I will never forget. It has ultimately changed both our lives.”
Less publicized is film shot by British television cameraman Alan Downes for the British ITN news service and his Vietnamese counterpart Le Phuc Dinh who was working for the American television network NBC, which shows the events just before and after the photograph was taken (see image on right). In the top-left frame, a man stands and appears to take photographs as a passing airplane drops bombs. A group of children, Kim Phúc among them, run away in fear. After a few seconds, she encounters the reporters dressed in military fatigues, including Christopher Wain who gave her water (top-right frame) and poured some over her burns. As she turns sideways, the severity of the burns on her arm and back can be seen (bottom-left frame). A crying woman runs in the opposite direction holding her badly burned child (bottom-right frame). Sections of the film shot were included in Hearts and Minds, the 1974 Academy Award-winning documentary about the Vietnam War directed by Peter Davis