SOUTH VIETNAM. Trang Bang. June 8, 1972. Terror of War. South Vietnamese forces follow after frightened children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, centre, as they run down a road, after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped flaming napalm on its own troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing.
This photo, taken by Vietnamese-born war photographer Nick Ut, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 and the World Press Photo of the Year award in 1972.
Photograph: Nick Ut/AP
This picture became one of the most haunting images of the Vietnam War. In an interview many years later, Kim Phúc recalled she was yelling, Nóng quá, nóng quá (“too hot, too hot”) in the picture. New York Times editors were at first hesitant to consider the photo for publication because of the nudity, but eventually approved it. A cropped version of the photo—with the press photographers to the right removed—was featured on the front page of the New York Times the next day.
After snapping the photograph, Ut took Kim Phúc and the other injured children to Barsky Hospital in Saigon, where it was determined that her burns were so severe that she probably would not survive (30% of her body). After a 14-month hospital stay and 17 surgical procedures, however, she was able to return home. Ut continued to visit Kim Phúc until he was evacuated during the fall of Saigon. (see this post on her later life)
Audio tapes of President Richard Nixon, in conversation with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman in 1972, reveal that Nixon mused “I’m wondering if that was fixed” after seeing the photograph. After the release of this tape, Út commented:
“Even though it has become one of the most memorable images of the twentieth century, President Nixon once doubted the authenticity of my photograph when he saw it in the papers on 12 June 1972…. The picture for me and unquestionably for many others could not have been more real. The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam War itself. The horror of the Vietnam War recorded by me did not have to be fixed. That terrified little girl is still alive today and has become an eloquent testimony to the authenticity of that photo. That moment thirty years ago will be one Kim Phúc and I will never forget. It has ultimately changed both our lives.”