The Long Road to Forgiveness

Kim Phuc - Toronto, Canada
As heard on NPR’s All Things Considered, June 30, 2008
Kim Phuc

As a child, Kim Phuc’s village in South Vietnam was bombed with napalm. A famous photo showed Kim running from the attack, naked and screaming. In the painful recovery from her burn wounds, Kim found that true healing came through forgiveness.

Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: forgiveness, war
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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 nine 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 fourteen months and had seventeen 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 any more.

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. On 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?

Kim Phuc is best known as the girl in the famous photo of a Vietnam War napalm attack near Saigon. She now lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and two children. Her organization, Kim Foundation International, aids children who are war victims.

This essay was produced by Anne Penman for the Canadian Broadcasting Corp in partnership with This I Believe, Inc.