Nick Ut’s image of a screaming girl fleeing naked is credited with turning public opinion against the Vietphái nam war, but for one person in the picture, the nightmares go on


Nichồng Ut’s ‘Napalm Girl’ photograph, which altered the course of the Vietphái nam war. Ho Thi Hien was the girl on the right. Photograph: AP
Nick Ut’s ‘Napalm Girl’ photograph, which altered the course of the Vietnam giới war. Ho Thi Hien was the girl on the right. Photograph: AP

On 8 June 1972, Ho Thi Hien was at her cousin Kyên Phuc’s house in the village of Trang Bang in South Vietphái nam. The adults were out when the children heard the plane overhead & fled, trying to lớn outrun their terror. A South Vietnamese Skyraider had just dropped a napalm bomb, propelling civilians down Vietnam’s Highway 1.

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One of them was nine-year-old Phuc who, in a moment captured by photographer Niông chồng Ut, was shown screaming as she ran naked down the road, having stripped off her clothes lớn rid herself of the poison on her skin. From that moment on she was known as the “napalm girl”. Ho, then 10 years old, ran alongside her cousin. Clothed but barefoot, she was captured on the right-hvà side of Ut’s photograph.


Ho Thi Hien in her coffe at Trang Bang, 25 miles north-west of Saigon, with APhường photographer Nick Ut. Photograph: Soo Youn/GuardianThe image, for which Ut won a Pulitzer prize, was widely credited with turning the tide of public opinion against the war. Decades later, it lives on as one of the most iconic images of the century. Although her face displays no obvious sign of trauma, so vì chưng Ho’s nightmares. “Every time I hear a plane I get scared,” she says.

As she has for thousands of days before, Ho sits patiently in the relentless Trang Bang heat on Thursday, occupying one of the weathered plastic chairs in her dusty roadside cà phê, footsteps away from where her pain was immortalised. A framed print of the photograph hangs from a post.

But the day is not completely unremarkable: it is the eve sầu of the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon, and Ut, as he does every time he returns khổng lồ Vietnam, has come lớn visit. “They’re like family,” he says.

Forty years ago, on 30 April 1975, North Vietnamese tanks rolled inkhổng lồ the former Saigon, seizing the South Vietnamese capital và capping a humiliating defeat for the US after a misguided decade of war. In chaos, Americans scrambled, abandoning the đô thị. The conflict killed over 3 million North Vietnamese, 250,000 South Vietnamese and over 58,000 Americans.

Early on Thursday morning, in a move aimed at beating the tropical midday heat, Vietnam held a massive sầu Liberation Day parade. It celebrated with thousands of goose-stepping soldiers, costumed performers, và card-flipping mosaics for its own dignitaries & representatives of other communist nations. The streets of downtown Ho Chi Minch City around the Reunification Palace have sầu been blocked for days. Civilians watched from trang chủ.

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Forty years of liberation may have sầu unshackled this country from the US military, but not necessarily American-style capitalism. A conflicted legacy looms over the city. Red banners declare: “Long Live the Glorious Party of Vietphái mạnh.”

The US normalised relations in 1995. Now flags emblazoned with the hammer & sickle punctuate avenues that boast Pradomain authority, Chanel, Kia, Lotte, Hondomain authority and Starbucks storefronts & adverts, revealing the welcome extended khổng lồ investment by former enemies America, South Korea and nhật bản despite anti-American remarks during the ceremony.


Kyên ổn Phuc, right, hugs Niông chồng Ut during a reunion in 2012. Photograph: Jae C. Hong/APAfter centuries of war, the Vietnamese psybít looks forward. Half of the country’s population of 90 million was born after the “American war” and an estimated 16,000 Vietnamese currently study in the US. The US is one of the biggest investors in Vietphái mạnh. South Korea, enlisted by the Americans lớn fight for the South Vietnamese, is also a major investor, & Korean culture in the size of K-pop music and soap operas is as welcome as its cash.

While Vietnam giới has changed hands và governments, Ho, now 56, continues lớn live sầu và work steps away from the napalm attack that altered the course of her life & of her country.

Her cousin Phuc lives in Toronkhổng lồ, has written a book & raised a family. Phuc’s brother – Phan Thanh Tam, the boy on the left side of the pholớn – lost an eye in the attaông xã. He died of cancer a few years ago và his widow operates a cafe next door to Ho’s on the first floor of the Phuc family house. Phuc’s home page is modernised, funded by donations from around the world. Money from Swedish benefactors provided refrigerators, furniture và a television.

On Thursday, Ut photographed the military splendour of a liberated Vietnam giới for the Associated Press, the news agency for which he continues lớn work. The pictures are good, he says, but none will ever compare to lớn the napalm photograph. It lives on for Phuc, for Ho, và his own family.

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A street is decorated with posters marking the 40th anniversary of the fall of Saigon in Ho Chi Minc City. Photograph: Niông xã Ut/APAs a teenager in 1966, Ut followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Vietnamese actor-turned-AP photojournacác mục Huynh Thanh khô My, who was killed by the Viet Cong.

“My brother, very good photographer,” Ut says, stepping away from where he shot his most famous photo. “I really love sầu him. Every time he came bachồng from assignments and showed the pictures, people die, the war. He showed his wife, he showed me. He was very angry. He said one day he was going to take a picture that would stop the war. But he never did. When he died, I heard his words in my ear. When I took the picture of Kyên ổn Phuc, I told my brother: ‘I have sầu it for you.’”

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