Kim Phuc Phan Thi
Vietnam War Survivor
A photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc as a nine-year-old girl enduring a napalm attack became a defining image of the Vietnam War. Healing has been a decades-long process. Now living in Canada, Kim Phuc shares her Brief But Spectacular take on pain and forgiveness.
Judy Woodruff: Tonight, we have a special episode of our Brief But Spectacular series, produced in association with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
The iconic photo of Phan Thi Kim Phuc as a 9-year-old surviving a napalm attack became a defining image of the Vietnam War.
Kim Phuc sought political asylum in Canada nearly 30 years ago. She now lives outside of Toronto. And a warning: Some viewers may find graphic images in this segment unsettling.
Phan Thi Kim Phuc: I remember June 8, 1972. I saw the airplane. And it’s so loud, so close to me. Suddenly, the fire everywhere around me.
The fire burned off my clothes. And I saw my arm got burned with the fire. I thought, oh, my goodness, I get burned. People will see me different way.
Nine years old, I became the victim of war. I didn’t like that picture at all. I felt like, why he took my picture, when I was agony, naked, so ugly? I wished that picture wasn’t taken.
I went through 17 operations. I had to deal with the pain every single day. I used to compare my scars with buffalo skin. And because my skin wasn’t have any pores, I cannot sweat, make me feel so tired, so headache.
It built me up with hatred, bitterness, and anger. I just living with the question, why me. Why that happened to me?
In 1982, I wanted to take my life, because I thought, after I die, no more suffer, no more pain.
Eventually, I found the New Testament in the library in Saigon. In Christmas, 1982, I became a Christian. That faith, it helped me a lot.
Since I have faith, my enemies list became my prayer list. I realized myself, wow, Kim, you pray for your enemies? This means you love. Forgiveness set my heart free.
I forgive everyone who caused my suffering, even the pilot, commander, people controlling me. When I became mother, I have full time to take care of my baby. I just slowly, slowly to tell him why mommy has a scar. I have to show him my picture. He touched my arm, and he say, “Mom hurt.” And he kiss here. He kiss me right here.
My work with the children who has trauma like me, I know how they have pain, and not only the pain with physical, but nightmare and traumatized. Most of them, they just ask me, why you are naked? Why you crying?
And I say, yes, because the bomb drop and I got burned. I also show them my scar on my back. And they say, oh, it’s so painful. I don’t want that you suffer that much. And they love me and they kiss my scar.
All my journey, I help children, building school, building hospital, orphanage home. It’s about relationship. Now I’m working, not because of my duty, not because of my mission, but because of my love.
Question: What do you see when you look at that photo of the girl in the picture?
Phan Thi Kim Phuc: Now, I can see the picture. I am so thankful.
My name is Kim Phuc Phan Thi. This is my Brief But Spectacular take on pain and forgiveness.
Judy Woodruff: Wow. What a remarkable story. Thank you.
And you can find all of our Brief But Spectacular segments online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.