MICHELE NORRIS, host:
One of the best-known photographs of the Vietnam War shows a group of children running down a road after napalm was dropped on their village. Among the children is a naked girl, her arms spread apart, badly burned, her face full of terror. The photo was taken 36 years ago this month, and our This I Believe essay today comes from the main subject of that photo: Kim Phuc, that girl now grown. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON: Kim Phuc is known as the girl in the picture. She's 45 years old now and living in Toronto, Canada with her husband and two children. Kim Phuc came to her belief literally by accident. And although it took a long time for her to find it, she has been sustained by it ever since. Here's Kim Phuc with her essay for This I Believe.
Ms. KIM PHUC: On June 8, 1972, I ran out from Cao Dai temple in my village, Trang Bang, South Vietnam. I saw an airplane getting lower, and then four bombs falling down. I saw fire everywhere around me. Then I saw the fire over my body, especially on my left arm. My clothes had been burned off by fire. I was 9 years old, but I still remember my thoughts at that moment: I would be ugly, and people would treat me in a different way.
My picture was taken in that moment on Road Number 1 from Saigon to Phnom Penh. After a soldier gave me some drink and poured water over my body, I lost my consciousness. Several days after, I realized that I was in the hospital, where I spent 14 months and had 17 operations. It was a very difficult time for me when I went home from the hospital. Our house was destroyed. We lost everything, and we just survived day by day.
Although I suffered from pain, itching and headaches all the time, the long hospital stay made me dream to become a doctor. But my studies were cut short by the local government. They wanted me as a symbol of the state. I could not go to school anymore. The anger inside me was like a hatred as high as a mountain. I hated my life. I hated all people who were normal because I was not normal. I really wanted to die many times.
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. If that little girl in the picture can do it, ask yourself: Can you?
ALLISON: Kim Phuc, with her essay for This I Believe, which came to us through our collaboration with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. To see photographs, the famous one from Vietnam in 1972, along with a recent picture, visit our Web site at npr.org, where you'll also find all the essays in our series and our invitation to submit your own. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.