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A Postcard from Our Traveler: The Girl in the Picture

May 7, 2012
a composite photo I took that day of the church and Kim then and now

A composite photo I took that day of the church and Kim then and now - Danny K.

While in Vietnam we had an unexpected and amazing experience. Remember I am an ol’ hippie and draft dodger of the Vietnam War era. The famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a little girl running naked through the streets of her village after being showered with napalm has haunted me for decades, as it has many others. I’m sure you know the picture. She is called simply the “Girl in the Picture”. Well we got to spend the afternoon at her home with her family and learned all about what happened to her after that tragedy. Everyone in the house (me, MJ, and our guide) were in tears as we looked at albums and watched videos.  Her name is Kim Phuc and she now lives in Toronto, after defecting there in the early 90’s. If you happen to be interested you can google her. There are info and you tube videos there on her site. My guide had never been there. I just asked her to take me to Kim’s village of Trang Bang after our Cao Dai temple visit (Trang Bang was about an hour out of our way, an advantage of custom travel) and we just ended up in Kim’s home talking to her brother’s wife and  children. Her brother is in the photo in front of Kim. He was not burned.

She was burned over 50 percent of her body which has near a hundred percent mortality. The photographer who took the photo grabbed her and doused her with water then took her to the local clinic. The next day he went back to check on her and she was in the morgue. He promptly discovered that she was not dead and took her to a regional hospital where she was transferred to Saigon. She subsequently spent 18 months in the hospital and had 17 surgeries, many of them by a burn specialist from the Univ of Chicago. Many people took an interest in her and contributed to her ultimate survival and this is all chronicled on the video and how she has kept up with them over the years and vice versa.

After all this Kim decided she wanted to be a doctor but Vietnam had other ideas. The govt jerked her out of school to send her all over the country and world to talk about the American imperialists who did this to her. She obviously did not want to do this. In the early 90’s she landed in Toronto on one of these propaganda tours. She got off the plane and asked for asylum and was granted it. It took several years but eventually her mom was allowed to move to Canada and Kim met a Vietnamese gentleman and they were married and had 2 children. She went to the Univ of Chicago to lecture at the request of the burn surgeon and was the keynote speaker at a huge Veterans Day celebration in Wash DC at the Vietnam Memorial. It was here that she met the American pilot who had ordered the mission that dropped the bomb. The pilot who actually flew the mission dropped the bomb on the Cao Dai temple (where the children were hiding) by mistake. He was a South Vietnamese. Over the years she has met all of these people and made a lot of peace for herself and them. She is now a UNESCO spokesperson and is extremely gracious, lovely and articulate. The video showed a lot of this happening and you can imagine how moving it was.

You can google Kim Phuc if you are interested and see some You Tube videos about all this. They are short and not nearly as good as the one I saw which is black market. I would love to get a copy but I doubt that will ever happen. There is a book about all this called “The Girl In the Picture” which I bought and intend to read soon.

As you can imagine I have left much of the story out but this was one of those very special days which occasionally break up the monotony of life and really give it meaning. Kim’s story in complicated ways has helped me to deal with my own demons about the Vietnam War.

- Danny K.
Paris, TN

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This was Danny’s fourth trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys. On this trip, planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick, Danny explored Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Bhutan. To learn more about planning your trip to Asia, call 800-642-02742

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