Vietnamese Kim Phuc, whose picture went viral 50 years ago fleeing a napalm attack, has met Pope Francis. At the general audience in St. Peter’s Square, the 59-year-old presented the Pope with the photograph of her then nine-year-old naked fleeing her village after a napalm attack. Also present at the general audience was the Vietnamese-American photographer Nick Ut, who won the Pulitzer Prize thanks to the photo.
The American news agency AP distributed what is probably the best-known photo document of the Vietnam War worldwide. Kim Phuc spent 14 months in Saigon for burns and underwent 17 skin grafts and surgeries. Today she lives with her family in Toronto, Canada.
Photo exhibition in Milan
Phuc traveled to Milan last week for the inauguration of a photo exhibition honoring Ut. “From Hell to Hollywood” is the title of the exhibition, which features 61 images by the 71-year-old photographer. The photo with Phuc is considered a media icon and made the photographer world-famous.
Phuc has been a UNESCO Ambassador since 1994. In 1997 she set up a foundation that bears her name and is dedicated to the care and support of war-damaged children. Her foundation has been building schools, orphanages and medical facilities around the world since 2002.
For ten years, Phuc’s heart was filled with hatred, resentment and negative thoughts until she discovered the Christian faith in the Saigon library while searching for answers about her fate. “I am the protagonist of an image that changed my life, but whose value I only realized over time. At first I hated this image, I saw in it a humiliation, me, a little girl exposed naked to the world and desperately screams,” reported the mother and grandmother in an interview with journalists.
At the time, the South Vietnamese army had mistakenly shelled Phuc’s village with napalm. The viscous incendiary weapon sticks to the target – even to human skin. Many victims did not survive. Phuc suffered third-degree burns on half of her body. To this day, she continues to undergo therapy to make her scars bearable.
The communist rulers, who recognized the power of the image, had presented them as war victims for propaganda purposes. After treatment in Germany, Phuc studied in Cuba, first pharmacy, then languages, and met her husband. With him she went to Canada as an asylum seeker, which is now her home. All she has in common with Vietnam, where her siblings live, is her terrible childhood.