Kim Phuc: more than Napalm Girl

Richard Branson and Kim Phuc - more than Napalm Girl
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 16 June 2022

“Bombs were dropped and everything exploded - our resources, our freedoms, our lives.”

Kim Phuc Phan Thi became known as the Girl in the Picture and Napalm Girl after photographer Nick Ut took a photo of her running away naked from a napalm bomb in Vietnam amidst the terror of war. But she is far more than that devastating moment 50 years ago.

I have been fortunate to cross paths with Kim Phuc a few times, and she recently gave a very inspiring talk at a charity gathering on Necker Island, in which she spoke about her experiences.

“Dying is far worse than death,” she said. “Gone were the laughter and whimsy. Gone were those thriving fruit trees. Gone were the lazy days and innocence. Gone was abundance in all its forms.”

Richard Branson with Kim Phuc on Necker Island

On 8 June 1972, South Vietnamese planes dropped a napalm bomb on Trang Bang, forcing Kim Phuc, other civilians and soldiers to flee the Caodai Temple and run for their lives along the dirt road. Kim Phúc tore off her burning clothes as she ran but still suffered incredibly bad burns, the scars of which she still has today. Nick Ut took the injured children to hospital. Two of her cousins and two other villagers were killed. The doctors believed Kim Phuc would not survive, but after 17 surgical procedures, she made it out alive.

She has gone on to lead an incredible life, calling out for peace, and starting the Kim Foundation International, which supports child victims of war. As she wrote in the New York Times recently: “It’s been 50 years. I am not ‘Napalm Girl’ anymore.” Her story is an incredible tale of overcoming extreme adversity to provide hope for others.

Hearing Kim Phuc’s story, it is hard not to think of the horrors currently taking place in Ukraine and other warzones around the world. She told CBC a message for Ukrainian children: “Hang on there. Don't lose your hope. Don't lose your dream.” It is up to all of us to do all we can to stop war in all its forms - and stop history from repeating itself.