Vietnam, the girl and the reporter meet in Milan 50 years later: “He took the photo and saved me”

from Pierluigi Panza

Kim Phuc, the “Napalm girl” who was 9 at the time, and the photographer Nick Ut, who won the Pulitzer, at the inauguration of the exhibition “From Hell to Hollywood” at Palazzo Lombardia: they recalled that morning of June 8 1972

Fifty years after the famous symbolic photo of the Vietnam Warthe one taken by Nick Ut that portrays a naked girl, named Kim Phucwho runs away from napalm bombs crying, la “Napalm girlAnd the photographer are in Milan to inaugurate on Friday evening the exhibition “From Hell to Hollywood”. The photographic exhibition, curated by La Thi Than Thao and Sergio Mandelli at Palazzo Lombardia until 31 May, traces the entire career of Nick Ut’s photojournalist fifty years after shot that earned him the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. The photo was taken on the morning ofJune 8, 1972. We had heard that there would be a bombing on the village of Trang Bang, in South Vietnam, occupied by the North Vietnamese. That morning there were several photo operators on site and many shots were taken. The bombs were dropped by some Douglas Skyraiders in use by the South Vietnamese air force. In some photos it can also be seen grandmother of Kim Phuc holding a dead grandson in her arms. Kim Phuc underwent 17 operations and lived first in Cuba then in Vietnam and Canada. Ut lives in Los Angeles, worked for Hollywood and continues in the profession. From the photo, in 2004 the street artist Banksy has created a famous ironic mural.

Kim Phuc: “I am an anti-war witness”

“It was June 8, 1972 and I was a nine-year-old girl. I was playing and the soldiers from South Vietnam came to tell us to go away because they were bombing. ‘ Thus began the memory of Kim Phuc. “We ran into the street and immediately afterwards the bombs exploded: I am just one of the millions of children who have suffered from the war.”

Who are the other children in the photo?

«They are relatives: the two boys on the left are my brothers and the other two children are my cousins. My brother died in 2004; the others are all alive ».

What happened then?

“Nick Ut took me to the hospital. I spent 14 months in the hospital and underwent 17 operations, the most recent in 1984 in Germany. I saw the photo for the first time after 14 months in the hospital and my father showed it to me cut out of a newspaper. I didn’t want to see her. Until 1975 there was a war and we were left with nothing. We in the South thought that after the war we would be happy. But then the Khmer arrived and life was terrible ».

What did he do next?

“The following year he leaves Vietnam for Cuba. During my time in the hospital, the doctors inspired me a lot and I thought I wanted to be like them. In 1982 I was admitted to the medical course, but just then the Vietnamese government noticed me. They decided that I should become the symbol of the Vietnam War precisely because of this famous photo. And so they took me out of school. I felt like a victim a second time: I became a testimonial ».

Go on.

“Then I encountered faith in Christianity and it helps me. I think it was thank God that we are still alive. The physical pain and the marks I still carry on my skin but the emotional and spiritual pain was even more difficult to deal with ».

Did he have children?

“The children of the whole world are my children,” she replies. “Anyway, I lived first in Cuba, then I got married, moved to Canada and had two children. Now I am a Canadian citizen and a UNESCO representative ».

What do you think about the war in Ukraine?

“It’s terrible, the same things are happening again. War extinguishes children’s dreams. I would like to share my story to serve as a lesson. “

A wish?

“To hand over a copy of this photo of mine to Pope Francis, I hope it will happen as soon as possible.”

Nick Ut: “I dropped my cameras to help her”

“I was a Vietnamese Associated Press reporter covering the war with others. We had a tip that there would be a bombing on Trang Bang, in South Vietnam, a village occupied by the North Vietnamese. That morning there were a dozen photo operators and a lot of shots were taken. I started working in photography at sixteen, replacing my brother, who had been killed ».

We come to the photo.

“I was there about three hours documenting. At one point I saw a Vietnamese soldier drop a grenade and then I saw the helicopters above the pagoda that dropped two bombs and, three minutes later, napalm bombs. Then I saw that people were running out of the black smoke. One such person was Kim’s grandmother who bore the body of her three-year-old cousin. I took a picture of the baby who died three minutes later. Then I saw Kim appear and run and I went over to take the picture. When I took the photo I thought they would all be dead ».


“When she passed me I saw her arm and back injured. I didn’t take any more of her because I thought she was going to die. I had four cameras, I left them there and ran with a bottle of water to sprinkle it on her body; she screamed: she burns, burns. But she wanted to drink. I stayed with a BBC to help her. I had a little van, I opened it up and put the kids on. I picked up Kim and put her in the van. They were screaming and everyone was saying they were dying and she was asking about her brother. ‘

And then?

“We got to a small hospital in 30 minutes. I asked the doctors to help her, but they didn’t have enough medicine. They helped me get her to Saigon. ‘

The picture?

“There I went to the Associated Press in Saigon and ten minutes later it was developed. The next morning we returned to the village and saw a woman and her husband looking for her daughter. I showed them her picture and told them I had taken her to the hospital. ‘

The following year she earned her Pulitzer, and then what?

“I went back to the village the day Kim came out of the hospital and I gave her a book.”

She then moved to Los Angeles, she also worked for Hollywood but has always supported the battles for human rights. What could a photo do for the war in Ukraine?

«Even a photo could help. I talked a lot with Ukrainian refugees in Los Angeles, who asked me to go. They would like me to see this war too and start again ».

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May 6, 2022 (change May 6, 2022 | 08:28)

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Vietnam, the girl and the reporter meet in Milan 50 years later: “He took the photo and saved me”

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