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Girl in iconic Vietnam photo still carries scars
02:28 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series called “Rewind: Where are they now?” It catches up with people who stumbled into the headlines – and then faded from view.

Story highlights

You might not know her name, but you've probably seen a photo of Kim Phuc

She is well-known as the terrified young girl in an iconic photo from the Vietnam War

Now she lives near Toronto as a wife, mother and United Nations ambassador for peace

She preaches a message of forgiveness rooted in Christian faith

Ajax, Ontario, Canada CNN  — 

Even without the benefit of context, the image of a naked 9-year-old girl running for her life is as searing and indelible today as it was 43 years ago.

That image jolted people around the world. Some say it hastened the end of the Vietnam War.

“I always remember that horrible day that we ran from life to death,” says Kim Phuc, the girl in that iconic photo. Now 52, she lives just outside Toronto, a wife, mother and survivor inextricably linked to a photograph that dominated front pages in 1972, seven months before the signing of Paris Peace Accords led to the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces from South Vietnam.

In the beginning, says Phuc, she hated the photo. It embarrassed her. And she struggled with the publicity that surrounded it. For her. it was personal: It captured a moment of torment – her face frozen in an agonizing wail moments after a napalm attack burned and disfigured her for life.

In fact, no one would blame Phuc if she had tried to get as far away from the image as possible. But that is not what she did.

After a long struggle, Phuc came to realize that if her pain and terror had not been captured on film that day, the bombing – like so many other wartime horrors – might have been lost to history.

She began to think about what the photograph could give, rather than what it could take away.

Eventually, the photo became much more than a depiction of a moment in time to Phuc – it became what she calls “a path to peace.”

“I realized that if I couldn’t escape that picture, I wanted to go back to work with that picture for peace. And that is my choice.”

‘I can work with that picture for peace’

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