Phan Thi Kim Phúc, known as “The Napalm Girl” because of a Vietnam War photograph of her as a child, addresses the congregation of Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood on Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Phan Thi Kim Phúc, known as “The Napalm Girl” because of a Vietnam War photograph of her as a child, addresses the congregation of Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood on Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

‘Napalm Girl’ no more: Iconic Vietnam War child shares faith

Kim Phúc, famous for being photographed naked and crying after a napalm attack, spoke at a Lynnwood church.

LYNNWOOD — The image of Kim Phúc is iconic.

In black and white, she stands naked and wailing among other children and some soldiers, at 9 years old, on a road with fire and smoke behind her. It became known as “Napalm Girl,” and the top recommendation when you type “napalm” in a Google search.

Phan Thi Kim Phúc (rhymes with Luke) wants the world to know who she has become. She is a 56-year-old woman who survived that napalm bombing during the Vietnam War, became a Christian, defected from her homeland, married, had children, and became a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Goodwill ambassador for the protection and education of children, orphans and innocent victims of war.

On Sunday, she was the featured speaker during Open Door Baptist Church’s service.

“I came through the fire and I am so blessed,” she said.

Later, she added: “The biggest challenge was learning to forgive.”

Prints of U.S. flags hung along the walls where stained glass windows of saints would be in a traditional altar and flag bunting was draped from the balcony of the church. It was so busy for the service and the later Freedom Celebration of barbecue, bounce houses and games that overflow parking at nearby elementary schools was needed.

Pastor Jason Murphy said the church hosts the field day for its congregation and neighbors as an open message about salvation.

“It has nothing to do with religion, being Baptist, or being a good person,” he said.

Phúc told a packed sanctuary about her life before and after the famous photograph as a story of faith found and realized.

When the photo was taken, she was 9. She talked about riding her bike before the fighting and chaos came to her village and forced them to evacuate to a temple.

“I knew nothing of war,” she said.

In this June 8, 1972, file photo, 9-year-old Kim Phúc, center, runs with her brothers and cousins, followed by South Vietnamese forces, down Route 1 near Trang Bang after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on its own troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. She spoke about her life and Christian faith Sunday at Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

In this June 8, 1972, file photo, 9-year-old Kim Phúc, center, runs with her brothers and cousins, followed by South Vietnamese forces, down Route 1 near Trang Bang after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on its own troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. She spoke about her life and Christian faith Sunday at Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood. (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

When the temple became unsafe as North Vietnamese soldiers drew near, she and the other refugees joined South Vietnamese troops in another evacuation. A Republic of Vietnam Air Force pilot thought they were enemy soldiers and bombed them.

“The airplane was so loud, so close, and so fast,” she said. “My clothes were burned off and my skin was on fire.”

The photograph was captured by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, whom she calls “Uncle Ut.” Titled “The Terror of War,” it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973.

Ut took her and others to a hospital, where she was not expected to survive. After three days, she said she was placed in a morgue. She survived and had 17 procedures.

She said she spent 14 months in the hospital recovering, but the psychological damage took longer.

“Because of scars on my back and left arm, I did not feel pretty,” she said.

When the Vietnamese government found her, she became a character for its propaganda.

“My life became just as a bird in the cage,” she said.

Anger, bitterness and resentment became her baseline emotions, and she said she wanted the people who had hurt her and taken away her agency to feel that pain.

Those feelings began to change, she said, when she became a Christian at 19 on Christmas Day, 1982, after finding a Bible and reading the New Testament. She said she kept a small Bible that she would hide from “minders” who checked in on her.

“You have the freedom to enjoy a church,” she said. “Please, don’t take it for granted.”

Phan Thi Kim Phuc, known as “The Napalm Girl,” addresses the congregation of Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood on Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Phan Thi Kim Phuc, known as “The Napalm Girl,” addresses the congregation of Open Door Baptist Church in Lynnwood on Sunday morning. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

She studied in Havana, Cuba, where she met and married her husband, Bui Huy Toan. Enroute to their honeymoon in Moscow, they defected during a short layover in Newfoundland, Canada.

“All I knew about Canada is it had a pretty flag,” she said, referring to the red field and white square with the red maple leaf in its center.

Leaning into her new home and her burgeoning faith, she said she continued to forgive the people who had hurt her. Using a glass of black coffee and an empty one, she gave the example that pour by pour, drop by drop, eventually she was empty of those resentments. She cited Luke 6:27-28, “But I say to you who hear: Love you enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”

Among her final words during the service was a prayer she shared, for “no fighting and real peace.”

She hopes that prayer can become as iconic as her photo.

Ben Watanabe: bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3037; Twitter @benwatanabe.

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