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40 years ago we met The Napalm Girl. The iconic photo woke the world up to the brutal reality of collateral damage. We traveled to Vietnam to produce The Power of a Picture for ABC7, Los Angeles. Four decades later, the photo and the girl are as powerful as ever.
June 8, 1972...just another day for AP photographer, Nick Ut. His boss, the legendary, Pulitzer Prize winner Horst Faas, sent him to Hwy 1 in Trang Bang to cover some military movement. Just another day in Vietnam. The war had been raging for over a decade. Nick had seen it and shot it. What could possibly be different in Trang Bang?
Nick left Saigon. Fate patiently waiting on Hwy 1. Nick's brother was a photographer for the AP in Saigon, too. Passionate about capturing a frozen moment, a picture that would end the war, he bravely died tried trying. Nick picked up the torch and made it his mission to snap the shot that would end the madness. He loved his brother and everyday would pray to him, "Please let today be the day I take the picture to end this war."
Two hours later, Nick's firing off his Leica on Hwy 1. Out of nowhere, South Vietnamese planes fly in and start bombing near the temple in Trang Bang. The villagers were hiding in the temple. Scared the North were targeting their place of worship, they fled and ran down Hwy 1.
Nick and the other journalists were feverishly capturing the moment. This was a friendly fire incident. It wasn't the VC, it was the villager's own people, the South, that dropped the bombs. Most of the photographers blew all their film on the temple bombing. Remember, this was pre-digital. Instead of 3000 pictures, they were limited to 24 per roll. Every shot had to count.
My colleague, ABC7 anchor, David Ono, is a friend of Nick Ut. Over the years, Nick would joke, "You should do a story on me." 2012 would be the year David would deliver the best punchline. I was excited. Vietnam has always been on my shortlist. "No joke, David, we're really going to Nam?" To properly tell Nick's story, we had to. History was waiting.
As the villagers were fleeing down the road, an SVA pilot flew in low and dropped four canisters of napalm. The highway erupted in flames. The journalists, a good 400 yards away, said it felt like an oven door was opened. The blast was unbelievable. What happened next, would be unforgettable.
Nick spotted people running out of the black smoke. It was horrific. His finger squeezing the trigger in disbelief. Running towards his lens, the picture that would help end the Vietnam War. Out of the fire, arms outstretched, a naked girl appeared. It was Kim Phuc.
June 8, 2012 is the 40th anniversary of that photo. We traveled to Vietnam to explore it's unyielding power, it's tragic history. What a picture. Aside from answer to prayer, it won Nick a Pulitzer Prize. More important, it woke the world up to the brutal realities of war.
Four decades later, the photo refuses to rest. It’s relevance just as the sobering as the day it was taken on June 8, 1972. The half hour show aired 6/2/12 on ABC7, Los Angeles. Here's a sample from the special, The Power of a Picture.