By Debbie Emery – Radar Reporter
A girl who was caught on film running naked and screaming as she fled from her burning Vietnamese village as blobs of burning lava scolded her body is finally coming to terms with the nightmare image.
Four decades later, the child who captured the horror of war while wailing “Too hot! Too hot!” has grown into an elegant 49-year-old woman called Kim Phuc, who went on to become a wife and mother and even meet the Queen of England.
“I really wanted to escape from that little girl,” revealed Phuc, reported the New York Daily News. “But it seems to me that the picture didn’t let me go.”
Kim’s life path has never strayed far from the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut, who risked his own life to snap the iconic black-and-white image as the South Vietnamese Skyraider plane swooped ominously overhead.
It was June 8, 1972, when Phuc heard a soldier scream: “We have to run out of this place! They will bomb here, and we will be dead!” as north and south Vietnamese forces fought for control of their village.
Dashing down the road after her brother, Kim’s cotton clothes evaporated from the heat of the flames before she collapsed unconscious and was plucked to safety by the 21-year-old Vietnamese-born photographer.
“I cried when I saw her running,” said Ut, whose older brother was killed on assignment with the AP in the southern Mekong Delta. “If I don’t help her — if something happened and she died — I think I’d kill myself after that.”
A couple of days later when she came to, dazed and confused in the hospital, Kim didn’t know where she was or how she got there. “I had no idea what happened to me. I woke up and I was in the hospital with so much pain, and then the nurses were around me. I woke up with a terrible fear.”
Thirty percent of her tiny body was covered in third-degree burns and she had to undergo painful surgeries and skin grafts for more than a year before she was allowed to go home to her village near the Cambodian border.
Despite her miraculous recovery, Kim went on to wish she had died after the country’s new regime marched her out as a propaganda tool and quashed her dreams of going to medical school and becoming a doctor.
“I wanted to escape that picture,” she said. “I got burned by napalm and I became a victim of war … but growing up then, I became another kind of victim.”
Her escape took her halfway across the world, and after fleeing to first Germany, then Cuba (where she met her husband and father of her two sons), Kim settled in Toronto, Canada when the couple defected from the Communists during a flight from Moscow.
It was there that she reunited with Ut, who encouraged her to tell her story — her way — for once. Now the author of a successful book and a Goodwill Ambassador, the little girl is all grown up and can finally look at the photo of herself running naked.
“Most of the people, they know my picture but there’s very few that know about my life,” she said. “I’m so thankful that … I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice. Then I can work with it for peace.”