How an iconic photo of naked girl made a lasting impact

Prepare to be moved to tears, because we have a lovely story to share. A friend sent me this amazing Associated Press story about a woman coming to terms with a stunning photo from her childhood. I would post the photo here, but AP owns the photo so you can find it here.

In the picture, the girl will always be 9 years old and wailing "Too hot! Too hot!" as she runs down the road away from her burning Vietnamese village. She will always be naked after blobs of sticky napalm melted through her clothes and layers of skin like jellied lava. She will always be a victim without a name.

The story is moving, told in chronological order about the girl and the photographer who snapped the picture.

Ut, the 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer who took the picture, drove Phuc to a small hospital. There, he was told the child was too far gone to help. But he flashed his American press badge, demanded that doctors treat the girl and left assured that she would not be forgotten. "I cried when I saw her running," said Ut, whose older brother was killed on assignment with the AP in the southern Mekong Delta. "If I don't help her — if something happened and she died — I think I'd kill myself after that." Back at the office in what was then U.S.-backed Saigon, he developed his film. When the image of the naked little girl emerged, everyone feared it would be rejected because of the news agency's strict policy against nudity.

So good, right? What does this story have to do with GetReligion?

She turned to Cao Dai, her Vietnamese religion, for answers. But they didn't come. "My heart was exactly like a black coffee cup," she said. "I wished I died in that attack with my cousin, with my South Vietnamese soldiers. I wish I died at that time so I won't suffer like that anymore. ... It was so hard for me to carry all that burden with that hatred, with that anger and bitterness." One day, while visiting a library, Phuc found a Bible. For the first time, she started believing her life had a plan. Then suddenly, once again, the photo that had given her unwanted fame brought opportunity.

Um, hello! What happened with the Bible? Did she magically find a plan through inspiring words or did she change her whole belief system? I want more. With a little bit of help from Wikipedia, I found this amazing 2008 article from NPR.

I spent my daytime in the library to read a lot of religious books to find a purpose for my life. One of the books that I read was the Holy Bible.

In Christmas 1982, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior. It was an amazing turning point in my life. God helped me to learn to forgive — the most difficult of all lessons. It didn't happen in a day and it wasn't easy. But I finally got it.

Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.

Napalm is very powerful but faith, forgiveness and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.

Hey, that's a little more helpful. I still want more details, though. What kind of church does she attend now? Her website includes a speech where she talks about her faith, but it's unclear whether her foundation has any faith-based angle or what.

After four decades, Phuc, now a mother of two sons, can finally look at the picture of herself running naked and understand why it remains so powerful. It had saved her, tested her and ultimately freed her. "Most of the people, they know my picture but there's very few that know about my life," she said. "I'm so thankful that ... I can accept the picture as a powerful gift. Then it is my choice. Then I can work with it for peace."

Sure, the picture may have physically saved and freed her from her surroundings, but if the reporter dug a bit deeper, she probably would have a few things to say about the impact spiritually. The story is beautiful, but it has a hole so large a truck could drive through it.

Image of missing puzzle piece via Shutterstock.

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