'Napalm Girl' photographer, subject mark 50th anniversary of iconic Vietnam War photo

NEW YORK (WABC) -- The iconic "Napalm Girl" photograph of terror-stricken Vietnamese children fleeing an errant aerial attack on their village, taken 50 years ago this month, has rightly been called "a picture that doesn't rest."

On June 8, 1972, Nick Ut, then a 20-year-old photographer for the Associated Press, strapped on four cameras and headed out on Highway 1, north of Saigon. Just after noon, he noticed a South Vietnamese Skyraider drop four napalm bombs.

The villagers scattered, and he heard a young girl screaming, "Nong qua! Nong qua! - Too hot! Too hot!"

"My eye kept shooting, and I saw a girl running with her arms like this," Ut said.

He looked through his viewfinder and saw that the girl, 9-year-old Phan Thi Kim Phuc, had pulled off her burning clothes and was running naked down the street.

"It bring me back a lot of bad memory," she said. "Sometime I didn't believe I was that little girl."

"The Napalm Girl," as the photograph quickly became known, appeared in newspapers around the world, including A1 in the New York Times on June 9.


It became, almost immediately, an iconic image that for many symbolized the failures of the war in Vietnam.

Ut won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 1973, but today, the photograph speaks to the horror of war overall and connects viscerally to the images of civilian casualties coming out of Ukraine.

After taking the photo, Ut set his camera aside to rush Phuc to a hospital, where doctors saved her life.

"It was only me with my driver there, then I said I don't want to leave because I know she will die," Ut recalled. "Then I picked her up, put her in the van and I brought her to the hospital."

Phuc later resettled in Canada and raised a family there, while Ut became a AP photographer based in Los Angeles, photographing A-list celebrities until he retired from the news agency in 2017.

Both were in New York City Monday for an event at the Fotografiska Museum ahead of the 50th anniversary.

"I feel like it just happened," Phuc sid. "Time flying 50 already."

Phuc said that for a long time she was embarrassed by the photo, but over time, her attitude shifted and she turned her attention to comforting young victims of war advocating for for peace.

"That picture became a very powerful gift for me to have a chance to have opportunity to do something back to help people," Phuc said. "Now we are facing the violence shooting in the school it's another war," she said.

It's another reason this mother and grandmother continues to speak on behalf of young victims of war.

"I dedicated my life the rest of my life to help children around the world who suffer," she said.

On Monday, they looked at the original negatives from that day, housed at an Associated Press office in Lower Manhattan, and the feelings all came flooding back.

"I feel so sad when I took the picture, but I'm so happy I took the picture," Ut said.

He preserved history for all to see, and for all to learn from.

"We need to learn to love each other, to have hope and forgiveness," Phuc said.

It's profound coming from a woman who still bears the scars of war physically and emotionally.

Recalling the horror of that day, Phuc said that 50 years ago, she was known to the world only as a victim of war.

"But right now, 50 years later, I am no longer a victim of war," she said. "I am a mother, a grandmother and a survivor calling out for peace."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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