By Josie Dupler
On February 25th, Gahanna’s Columbus Academy welcomed Kim Phuc as a speaker, part of the 2012 Currier lecture series. While many people see Kim Phuc as the Vietnam War poster child, Phuc works to be seen as hope for war victims across the world by telling her story.
Kim Phuc was born and raised in Trang Bang, Vietnam, where she and her family lived a life of luxury and happiness. However, this all changed on June 8, 1972, when the place her family was hiding at for safety was bombed by the American military, which was told the village had been cleared of civilians. During the bombing, Phuc lost two of her cousins and was covered in napalm gas, burning her skin at 1200 degrees Celsius. When miraculously running out of the fire, Phuc was photographed by Nick Ut. Little did they know, that photograph would change both of their lives forever.
Ut rushed Phuc to the nearest hospital, where she began her long recovery. After spending two years in different hospitals, enduring seventeen surgeries, Phuc was finally able to return to her village. She was thrilled to be back in school and catch up with her classmates, but the Vietnamese government had a different plan for her. The picture that Ut had taken of her was all across the world, on every news stand and in many homes. The horrid image broke the hearts of people everywhere, filling them with anger.
“My dream was to study medicine and give back what was given to me, but my country didn’t allow freedom like that to happen,” said Kim Phuc to her audience at Columbus Academy.
Instead of being able to return to her studies, Phuc was forced to become a symbol of war for her country. The Vietnamese government had her under 24 hour surveillance, not allowing her to be free to study and live as she pleased. After years of being her government’s government, she was finally able to escape to Canada and begin a family with her husband.
“We all take for granted the freedom that we have and don’t take enough time to consider what has happened in the past that gave us the freedom we have,” said Meredith Hood. “War victims, like Kim, make us realize how lucky we are to live where we live.”
Phuc’s new life in Canada gave her a chance to tell her story the want she wanted it told, not the way the Vietnamese government did. She started traveling the world, sharing how blessed she is to be alive and how encourage people everywhere to work together to make peace so that less people become victims of war, like she was.
“I believe that every person can make a difference and create harmony,” said Kim Phuc.
She also has traveled the world to seek forgiveness for herself and the Vietnam veterans that attacked her village. At Columbus Academy, she was able to reconcile with two Vietnam veterans that live in Lancaster area.
“I always wondered what had happened to the girl in the picture, now I’m at peace knowing that she is alive and working to make our world a better place,” said Vietnam veteran Jim Lutz.
Phuc now has her own non-profit foundation that works to provide medical and psychological help for war victims and needy children in many different countries. She is also a UNESCO Ambassador for a Culture of Peace and has received four doctorate degrees. Phuc is a living symbol of peace, forgiveness, and freedom for people all across the globe.
“When terrible things happen, we must learn from the experience and use it to make us stronger. We all were put on this Earth for a purpose and each of us have a chance to speak up for what’s right and work to create change,” said Kim Phuc.