Fifty years ago, a nine-year-old Vietnamese girl fled for her life as US fighter jets dropped napalm bombs. The photo of her running naked and screaming became one for the annals of history. Now, at the age of 59, she has received the final skin treatment for the horrific burns she sustained in the attack, in the very country that waged war on hers.
Nicknamed ‘Napalm girl’, Kim Phuc Phan Ti has been undergoing multiple procedures and treatments to relieve pain from the third degree burns on her body, which she suffered in a napalm strike on her village in June 1972, during the Vietnam War.
A year’s stay in hospital and 17 surgeries later, the badly burned girl was discharged. She had to undergo several more procedures in the next decade before she could properly move again. Even so, every day was agony for her.
Phan Ti and her husband fled communist-ruled Vietnam in 1992 and sought asylum in Canada. In 2015, she got in touch with Dr Jill Zwaibel in Miami (in the US state of Florida), seeking specialised treatment for her burns and scars. Knowing Phan Ti’s story, Dr Zwaibel agreed to do the treatment free of charge.
Nick Ut, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who shot her now iconic war photograph before rushing her to the hospital, joined Phan Ti in Miami for the final procedure and took more pictures of her. This time, she was smiling.
In an interview with CBS News, Phan Ti recounted the terrifying ordeal that changed her life: she had been playing with other children when Vietnamese soldiers told her to run.
She looked up, saw an airplane dropping bombs, before her village burst into flames. “Too hot! Too hot!” she screamed while running away. Her clothes were burned off of her, and she received third degree burns all over her body.
“I still remember what I thought that moment – ‘Oh my goodness, I got burned, then I will be ugly, then people will see me a different way,” she said.
Having successfully completed her skin treatment procedures, Phan Ti said, “Now 50 years later, I am no longer a victim of war, I am not the Napalm girl, now I am a friend, am a helper, I’m a grandmother and now I am a survivor calling out for peace.”