Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

42 years after the end of Vietnam's war, we've decided to take a look at Nick Ut's life album, from hell to Hollywood.


Vietnam's war was one of the biggest traumas during the Cold War. Everything was over on 30 April 1975, when President Dương Văn Minh announced the surrender of the South Vietnam to communists forces. The Fall of Saigon marked the end of the 20-year war and led to the reunification of the South and North of the country.

Thousands of Vietnamese were then forced to leave the country. Among them, there was Nick Ut, one of the most famous photo reporters in the world, who experienced and captured the war's cruelty with his camera.

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

8 June 1972. It was the date when napalm bombs were destroying the village Trang Bang, causing fear and death. It was the moment that would change the life of the then 21-year-old photographer. A picture that illustrated the atrocity, with the figure of a naked girl running to save herself from the flames that were burning her village. Her eyes, full of fear, were captured in the world's memory and the picture became a synonym of the word 'war' to such extent that, if someone searches for 'war' on Google, they will find this picture.

"It was around 12:30 when I saw four bombs falling right of the pagoda. Explosion! And two minutes later, one other airplane flew very low to drop four more bombs. I immediately realized that it was a napalm bomb. I took a picture. I didn't think that there were still people in the village because thousands of refugees had abandoned it in the last two days. However, I saw two people running holding little kids' bodies in their arms, cuddling dead children, while an old lady was shouting "Help me, help me" holding a young boy in her arms. The boy died while I was taking a picture of them.

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Only some seconds later, I heard children's voices and, turning my head I saw a naked girl coming out of black smoke. "Why isn't she wearing her clothes" I wondered while running to take a picture of her. And then I saw her neck, her back, her body... burnt. And I stopped taking pictures. I left the camera on the road. I didn't want Kim to die I wanted to help her, so I immediately dropped water on 9-year-old Kim Phuc's wounds. She screamed in pain: "nóng quá (too hot)." We were all shocked. Her uncle asked us to take all these kids to the hospital. I knew Kim would die very soon unless I helped her. "I'm dying, I'm dying" she was crying.

When we approached the hospital in Cu Chi, the doctors didn't want to take care of Kim, because there were many wounded soldiers. So they asked me to take her to the hospital of Saigon. "The kid will die I replied. I was furious. I showed them my reporter's card and threatened that if she died, I would publish the pictures saying that doctors didn't want to help. Finally, they saved the girl", said Nick Ut, remembering the tragic events through his narration.

Associated Press' director, for whom Ut used to work, denied publishing the girl's picture, because, according to the agency's policy, they shouldn't publish photos that contained nudity. Ut's friend and awarded with Pulitzer photographer, Horst Faas, contacted, then, Associated Press' central offices in New York, to ask for the publishing of this pictures as an exemption. Finally, Hal Buell, director of the photograph department, agreed that the photograph's value was more than any restriction against nudity and that they should publish it.

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

The picture became a significant proof of war's cruelty. It even made Richard Nixon, president of the USA, question its originality. "It couldn't be more real. It's as original as Vietnam's war", replied Ut.

In 1973, the legendary picture "The fear of war" or mostly known as "Napalm Girl" was awarded a Pulitzer.

"If she died, I would kill myself"


Ut reveals that a good photo wasn't his priority then. He understood that he had captured a lot of good pictures, but what he cared about was, as he stated, "to help the girl because if I let her die, I would kill myself." He used to visit her at the hospital every week. When Ut left Vietnam, they didn't see each other for 14 years.

Today, Kim Phuc lives with her family in Canada. She and Ut are still good friends.

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

The 'scream' of the picture had such an impact worldwide that, according to what many people think, it affected the war's outcome. "Since the first moment, I knew that this picture would stop the war. American soldiers were telling me that they would return to their homes because of me", Ut remembers. He adds that when he visits Vietnam nowadays, people still tell him that they're alive because of his photograph.

Who was Nick Ut?


Huynh Cong Ut, mostly known as Νick Ut, was the eleventh child of 12 siblings in total. His older brother, Huynh Thanh My, also a photographer, was killed by rebels of Viet Cong. 15-year-old then Ut decided to become a photographer himself. In his brother's funeral, he asked Horst Faas, his brother's boss, for a job. Faas denied because he didn't want the family to lose one more son. Nevertheless, in January of 1966, Faas hired Ut under the condition that he wouldn't work in a war zone.

So, for the next few years, Ut was working restrictedly for photographs around Saigon, until January of 1968, when the war began. As his colleagues reveal, Ut was excited to take pictures of Viet Cong's soldiers.

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture


Ut's passion for photography left him with traumas in his body and soul. After Saigon's Fall in 1975, Ut left Vietnam and stayed in a refugee camp in California, until Associated Press hired him for its branch in Tokyo. That was where he met his wife, Hong Huynh, who used to live in the same neighborhood with Ut in Vietnam, but they had never met each other. In 1977, they moved to Los Angeles.

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

From hell to Hollywood


That's the title which Nick Ut would use to describe his life. He was suddenly a photographer in Hollywood. For approximately the next 44 years of his life, Ut would take pictures of celebrities on the red carpet or... in court.

Ut's pictures of Michael Jackson dancing upon an SUV outside of the courthouse, when he was judged for child abuse, or Paris Hilton crying in a patrol car became famous all over the world.

Ut jokes: "I believe the war was easier than Hollywood for me. It's too crowdy in Hollywood, and everyone is pushing each other. It's hard for me since I'm too short".

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Napalm Girl: The Truth Behind The Shocking Picture

Image sources: AP Images / Nick Ut

References: Associated Press, NBC News, L.A. Weekly, Vanity Fair, World Press Photo, Time

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