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'Napalm Girl': An Iconic Image Of War Turns 40

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'Napalm Girl': An Iconic Image Of War Turns 40

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'Napalm Girl': An Iconic Image Of War Turns 40

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now, the 40th anniversary of an iconic image of war. Whatever your age, you've probably seen this photo - it's a hard image to forget. A young girl, naked, runs screaming toward the camera in agony after a napalm attack incinerated her village, her clothes and then her skin.

KIM PHUC: I saw the fire over my body. And my clothes just burn off. And I was so scared and I screaming.

That's Kim Phuc talking to NPR's Terry Gross. She was 9 years old in 1972 when she was photographed, screaming in pain, after a U.S. commander ordered South Vietnamese planes to drop napalm near her village.

The pain at that moment so terrible, so I lost my consciousness, and I didn't know anything else. But then I learned that Nick Ut, the photographer, he took me to a nearest hospital. He saved my life.

MARTIN: Nick Ut was the Associated Press photographer who took that picture. At the hospital, he was told that the little girl was beyond help. He demanded they treat her anyway. And Kim Phuc survived, despite burns that covered over half her body. Ut's editors made an exception to a policy preventing frontal nudity in photos and went ahead and published it. Known simply as napalm girl, the photo transcended the divisive debate about the rights and wrongs of the Vietnam War and it crystallized the barbarity of war. It earned Nick Ut a Pulitzer Prize, and a lifelong friend in the little girl he saved.

PHUC: He called me all the time, every week. We just very close, yeah.

MARTIN: Kim Phuc is now 49, living with her two sons in Canada. Nick Ut is still a photographer for the AP. The woman he saved still calls him Uncle Ut.

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MARTIN: To see that memorable photo, go to npr.org.

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MARTIN: And you're listening to NPR News.

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