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Text Illustrations
Phan Thi Kim Phuc

(Illustration from Still More Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks” Wayne Rice. Printed by Youth Specialties)


On June 8, 1972, a nine-year-old Vietnamese girl, her clothes flaming from gasoline bombs, fled the American-led assault on her village of Trang Bang. With her eyes screwed shut and her mouth spread wide in a scream of pain, she was captured on film in America’s most remembered Vietnam wartime photo.

In Officer John Plummer’s nightmares, this picture flashed huge, in black and white, to a sound track of children screaming. His order had directed bombers to shower Kim Phuc’s village with the chemical explosives. For years, guilt over destroying and maiming the villagers haunted the officer. Women and alcohol were his escape of choice.

Twenty years after the destruction of the village, Officer Plummer asked Christ to take control of his life, unleashing God’s ultimate power to end guilt. Although free from guilt, he carried inside himself scars somehow linked to the thick, white scars on the neck, arm, and back of the now-grown Vietnamese girl. Six years later, Plummer knew he needed to find her. In an effort to meet her face to face, he tracked her down while she was visiting America.

Unlike the June 1972 event, no photographer captured the moment when Plummer explained to Kim Phuc who he was. But in the middle of a busy sidewalk, the soldier, now 49 years old, and the child, now 33 years old, embraced. “She just opened her arms to me.” Plummer later said, “I fell into her arms sobbing. All I could say is, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m just so sorry.’”

“It’s all right,” she replied as she patted Plummer’s back. “I forgive. I forgive.”

Kim went on to survive although it took 14 months of painful rehabilitation to treat the third degree burns that was over more than half of her body.

Kim is now a Canadian citizen and shares her thoughts on survival and inspiration. She has traveled all over the world, meeting and talking with people about peace. She is now a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

She has forgiven, but has not forgotten, and in a commemorative ceremony to the Vietnam War she publicly pardoned the person who had launched the napalm bombing on her village in Vietnam. Ever since, she has dedicated her life to promoting peace, and to this end she founded the “Kim Phuc Phan Thi Foundation” (kimfoundmullC@aprint.ca). This foundation helps children who are victims of war everywhere by providing medical and psychological help to surmount their traumatic experiences.

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