'Napalm Girl' photographer, survivor reflect on 50th anniversary of iconic Vietnam War photo

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ByDavid Ono via KABC logo
Friday, June 10, 2022
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Nick Ut's photo of 9-year-old Kim Phuc surviving a napalm attack became a defining image of the Vietnam War.

Wednesday marked the 50th anniversary of one of the most important photographs in history.

It was June 8, 1972 when Nick Ut took the now famous "Napalm Girl" photo. Many credit it with truly changing the world by giving innocent victims a face, and prompting an end to the Vietnam War.

Taken outside the village of Trang Bang, the picture captured the trauma and indiscriminate violence of a conflict that claimed, by some estimates, a million or more civilian lives. Though officially titled "The Terror of War," the photo is better known by the nickname given to the badly burned, naked 9-year-old at its center: "Napalm Girl."

"Then when she passed my camera, I saw her body burned so badly. I said, 'Oh my God, I don't want no more picture," Ut recalled in an interview in 2012 with ABC7's David Ono.

WATCH: 'Napalm Girl' photo from Vietnam War turns 50

The girl, since identified as Kim Phuc, ultimately survived her injuries.

Phuc also spoke to David Ono in 2012 and expressed how she was embarrassed by the photo when she first saw it.

As one of the only survivors of napalm, she's is in constant pain. A devout Christian, her faith is what gets her through. Today, that picture fuels her mission as an ambassador of peace.

Last month, she and Ut -- whom she still affectionately refers to as "uncle" -- presented a copy of the photograph to Pope Francis in St Peter's Square.

RELATED: Nick Ut, famed 'napalm girl' photographer, retiring

"I realized that, 'Wow, that picture has become a powerful gift for me -- I can (use it) to work for peace, because that picture has not let me go," she said.

"Now I can look back and embrace it... I'm so thankful that (Ut) could record that moment of history and record the horror of war, which can change the whole world. And that moment changed my attitude and my belief that I can keep my dream alive to help others."

During that visit, Ut reflected on the photo's impact in ending a war that tore his homeland apart.

"I've met so many American veterans. They cried to me. They say 'I come home early because of your picture,'" he told David Ono, who was there as the pair visited Italy.

For Phuc, the war in Ukraine brings back her own darkness. Standing near the Colosseum, she cried thinking about it as it reminded her of the Vietnam War.

But just as quickly, that strong woman returns with a message to people who see the photo.

"Try not to see her as she was then, crying out in pain, wounded and suffering, but try to see her as she is now, as a friend, as a helper, as a mother and grandmother and survivor calling out for peace," Phuc said.

The CNNWire contributed to this report.