War crimes victims’ advocate Kim Phuc Phan Thi, the now grown-up “napalm girl” from an iconic photo from the Vietnam War, will deliver a talk titled “Life Lessons” on April 28 at 8 p.m. in Cole Assembly Room of Amherst College’s Converse Hall. The event is free and open to the public.
Phuc was born and raised in a village near Saigon. In 1972, Americans and the South Vietnamese Airforce dropped napalm bombs on her village. Nine-year-old Phuc fled from a Buddhist pagoda, where she and her family were hiding. Two of her infant cousins did not survive the attack, and Phuc was badly burned. Phuc was photographed immediately afterward running down the road, screaming from the burns to her skin. The photo remains one of the most unforgettable images of the Vietnam War.
Phuc was not expected to live after the bombing. Two years later, however, with the help of doctors who were committed to her care, she was able to return to her village, and her family began to rebuild their lives. During the following years, the government subjected her to endless interviews and officials summoned her to Ho Chi Minh City to be used in propaganda films. Phucwas forced to quit school and move back to her province, where she was supervised daily as a “national symbol of war.”
In 1986, Phuc was sent to study in Cuba and eventually settled in Canada. When Vietnam veterans invited her to participate at a service in Washington as part of a Veteran’s Day observance, Phuc shared her experience to help others heal from the pain of war. While there, she spoke face to face with a veteran involved in dropping the bombs on that day in 1972, and forgave him.
Phuc’s story was turned into a book called The Girl in the Picture and a documentary called Kim’s Story: The Road from Vietnam.
In light of Phuc’s struggle, she established a foundation to further heal the wounds of war. The Kim Foundation is a nonprofit organization committed to funding programs to heal children in war torn areas of the world. It is named for Phuc, who wants to give back what so many gave to her to contribute to her healing. In 1997 UNESCO named her a Goodwill Ambassador.