INTERNATIONAL

The photo that changed the course of a war

The iconic photograph. Photojournalist Nick Ut and Kim Phuc Phan Thi in Toronto on Friday.— Photos: AP, Reuters

The iconic photograph. Photojournalist Nick Ut and Kim Phuc Phan Thi in Toronto on Friday.— Photos: AP, Reuters  

It was a chilling photograph that came to symbolise the horrors of the Vietnam War and, ultimately, helped end it.

It also saved the life of Kim Phuc, who was just nine years old when, on June 8, 1972, her village was attacked by South Vietnamese planes.

Ms. Phuc, who lives near Toronto with her family, honoured those who saved her at a dinner on Friday to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the iconic photograph. They include AP photographer Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut, who snapped the shot, as well as other journalists, doctors and nurses who helped her get help and who treated her injuries.

Mr. Ut, who was 21 at the time, heard Ms. Phuc's screams as she ran down the road to escape her burning village, and snapped the photo that became famous around the world.

The 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer then drove the badly burned child to a small hospital, where he was told she was too far gone to help. He flashed his American press badge, demanded that doctors treat the girl and left assured that she would not be forgotten.

“I'm so grateful he was there,” Ms. Phuc said. “He helped me and rushed me to the nearest hospital. He saved my life. He's my hero. This opportunity tonight I want to honour all of my personal heroes.”

Mr. Ut said he cried when he saw her running. He said if he didn't help and she died he would have killed himself. He knew right way this picture was different and said veteran photo editor, Horst Fass, deemed it the most the iconic photo of the Vietnam war.

“It changed the war. I met so many American soldiers who said ‘Nicky because of your picture I'll get to go home early,'” he said.

In the Pulitzer Prize-winning image, children run screaming from a burning Vietnamese village. The little girl in the centre of the frame, Ms. Phuc, is naked and crying, her clothes and layers of skin melted away by napalm.

Martha Arsenault, a nurse who cared for her at the American hospital, said when Ms. Phuc got to the American hospital nobody thought she'd make it. — AP

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