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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Finding Hope After the Horrors of War (Part 1 of 2)

Finding Hope After the Horrors of War (Part 1 of 2)

Kim Phuc Phan Thi shares her powerful story of being burned by a napalm bomb as a child during the Vietnam War, and becoming the central figure of the iconic Pulitzer Prize winning photo "The Terror of War." She talks about her recovery, the ongoing challenges she faced, how she became a Christian and how God has helped her to forgive her enemies. (Part 1 of 2) 

Opening:

Excerpt:

Kim Phuc Phan Thi: (Vietnamese) Ra ngoài. Chạy. Chúng ta phải rời khỏi nơi này. Nó không an toàn ở đây. Họ sẽ phá hủy toàn bộ nơi này. Đi. Trẻ em, chạy trước. Đi. Đi ngay.

Get out. Run. We must leave this place. It is not safe here. They are going to destroy this whole place. Go. Children, run first. Go. Go now.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: That’s Kim Phuc Phan Thi. And today on “Focus on the Family,” you’re going to hear her amazing testimony about how God has redeemed her life. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Opening Wrap:

Jim Daly: Uh, John, today is the 43rd anniversary of the fall of Saigon, uh, which brought an end to the Vietnam War. Every war brings casualties, and lives are forever changed. And Kim’s is one of those lives who was impacted and will never be the same. And people she encounters are never the same because of the testimony that God has given her. People will know her remember her as the Napalm Girl, the central figure of one of the iconic Pulitzer Prize-winning photos. Uh, “The Terror Of War,” I think, was the title. I remember it as a child. Uh, I was probably 8 or 9 when I saw it. And it caught my attention and really, um, galvanized the ugly side of war.

Um, so many around the world saw it and had that same response. Um, she’s the young girl running naked down the road, her skin on fire with napalm. And today, you’re going to hear her story. Kim’s story, if you’re not already there, Kim’s story is going to, I think, convict you to seek God.

John: Mm. Yeah, there’s a lot of perspective and a lot of, um, amazing, uh, interventions by God in Kim’s life. And, uh, we’re in for quite a conversation today. Uh, if you have to run at all during our discussion today, uh, please know Kim has written a great book called Fire Road. It is riveting. And we have it, and we’ll have a CD of our entire conversation with Kim, at focusonthefamily.com/radio. And, uh, Kim and her husband Toan have two grown sons, and they live near Toronto, Canada.

Jim: Kim, welcome to “Focus on the Family.”

Body:

Kim: Thank you for having me.

Jim: It is such an honor to have you here. Let’s start with the obvious question. How do you parent two boys? Because I’ve got two boys too. (Laughter) How have you done?

Kim: Wow. That is so blessing.

Jim: (Laughter) You didn’t expect that one, huh?

Kim: That is, uh, so blessing. My son, uh, older one, Thomas, he’s, uh, 23. And he got married, and he has a son.

Jim: So you’re Grandmother.

Kim: I am Grandmother. My grandson, named Kalel (ph)…

Jim: Kalel (ph)?

Kim: Yeah.

Jim: Oh, man.

Kim: About 1 year old.

Jim: One year old.

Kim: And…

Jim: Well, congratulations.

Kim: Thank you. And, um, I’m so, so thankful that both of them, they surrendered to serve the Lord as a missionary and as…

Jim: Both your boys?

Kim: Uh, Thomas…

Jim: Thomas and his wife.

Kim: …And his wife.

Jim: Oh, that’s beautiful.

Kim: Uh, they have a missionary in, uh, Southeast Asia.

Jim: Yeah. Uh, back…

Kim: Thank you.

Jim: …To their homeland. That’s amazing.

Kim: And my, uh – Stephen, age 20, he’s in West Coast Bible College in Lancaster in the third year.

Jim: Oh, Mom…

Kim: And he surrendered to serve the Lord as well.

Jim: (Laughter) I was going to say, Mom, you’ve done well.

Kim: Praise the Lord. I love them. And I, uh – only one thing I can give, uh, to them is my God and let them know about my God is real.

Jim: Oh, man. That is a mom’s heart. Let’s talk about your story, because, uh, people have heard kind of the end of the story, which is your family and following the Lord, pursuing the Lord, serving the Lord, which is beautiful. But it has been a journey for you, Kim. 

Um, you write in your book – uh, which is a wonderful, difficult book, Fire Road, and that iconic picture right on the cover that so many millions of people have seen of you, um, running down that road that day, literally on fire from that napalm – but you talk about peace in your book. And the – kind of the cornerstone is how important peace was to you. How has God’s peace defined your life now?

Kim: That is – I can say, this is a miracle. It’s a turning point in my life when I became Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ. And because of that, I have peace and joy. And every time I pray, God answer my prayer because – a secret is – I believe that God will answer. And God peace is – mean too much for me, inside and out. Because during the time I – I endure so much about pain and survivor and my life is just upside down, I didn’t have any peace. My heart is full with hatreds, bitterness and anger.

Jim: Yeah. But before thatin the first eight years of your life in your book you mention what a wonderful family you had, and things were good. Describe that, before the war. And – and, uh, your mom and dad even shielded the kids from the fact that the country was at war. What was your regular life like before the bombs hit?

Kim: Wow. I never forget. Before the war happened, in my life, in my village, in my family, uh, we just living in the – like, the countryside, like, paradise. (Laughter)

Jim: Right. Your mom and dad had some acreage. You had cattle.

Kim: Very much everything. Every time I got into my, uh – the gate of my house, I felt like princess.

Jim: Oh, yeah.

Kim: (Laughter) And, um, I was so proud of my family, uh, very well off.

Jim: Yeah. And they – you were eight children – right? – in the family. And you’re number…

Kim: I number six. (Laughter)

Jim: Six. So it was joyful, is what you’re describing. Um, in that context, though, uh, your faith was different. It wasn’t a Christian faith at that time. 

Kim: Yes.

Jim: Describe what people in your village believed and…

Kim: I – I was raised in the Cao Dai, colorful faith. (Laughter)

Jim: Cao Dai.

Kim: Yeah.

Jim: What do the Cao Dai believe?

Kim: They believe in everything. Whosoever they name on that list, we worship it.

Jim: So all religions are kind of on par. And – and you respect each other’s religion, and there’s many ways to heaven. Is that a fair description?

Kim: Exactly like that. Right.

Jim: So very tolerant. 

Kim: Uh-huh.

Jim: Yeah.

Kim: But my problem is – is something missing in my heart.

Jim: So you knew that even as a child.

Kim: Yes, because…

Jim: You could feel there was something missing.

Kim: …Because I try my best to worship them, to pray so much. And I practice my faith in the Cao Dai temple, uh, so many times. And even I vegetarian in order to avoid all the sins against God, something like that.

Jim: Right, that if you ate correctly – I mean, those are practices that are around the world in different forms today. 

Kim: Yes.

Jim: And, uh – and we’re going to get to the power of Christ and how he made a difference and awakened in you…

Kim: Yeah.

Jim: … salvation and all those right things. But I think it’s important for people to hear where you started. This is your childhood. This is your part of the world that you grew up in. 

That fateful day, uh, June 8, uh, 1972, what were you doing? What was going on? Were you aware of the trauma going on in the country? What was your family life like during the war? And then, what happened on that day?

Kim: Well, my family, uh, we know about the war. But the war never touch us in that village.

Jim: So you felt safe.

Kim: We felt safe, of course. And then, uh, there are so many refugees came to our village to live survivor there. But then, in June 8 – three days before that, my village was occupying by the North Vietnamese soldiers.

Jim: OK. So they were coming in.

Kim: They came. Yeah. And they wanted to occupying my village. And my mom knew the war will come. We were in a dangerous moment. So eventually, they allow my family to hide in the Cao Dai temple. So we move into the temple for three days. And then, the first day, June 8, I remember, as a children, we just allowed to play nearby the bomb shelter. Uh, then, in the morning, we heard about the noise of burning outside, but not inside, uh, the temple. And then, after lunch, we saw the color mark and into the temple area. That mean they dedicated – the temple was going to be bombed.

Jim: Oh. So they marked it with a color bomb.

Kim: Because that is – they – they…

Jim: So they target it.

Kim: …Before they target, they have to, uh, drop the mark.

Jim: Right. For the pilots, right.

Kim: Yeah. And then the soldiers, the South Vietnamese soldiers who protect us there, they yelling. They say, “oh, my goodness. We have to go.”

Jim: So they start yelling to you kids. What are they yelling?

Kim: Yeah. Because they say, “they will destroy the temple, all of us here. So we have to run.” And that’s why they called the children run first, and then the adults run after us, with, uh, belongings and the children, uh, that they couldn’t run, right? So I remember I was running just in the front of the temple. It is, you know, between the front of the temple and the road number one. It’s just right there.

Jim: The main road.

Kim: The main road. Then, I just got into the road number one, and I saw the airplane so loud toward to me.

Jim: Coming right at you.

Kim: Yeah. So fast. And as a child, I just frozen right there. I didn’t run. I didn’t know why. It’s a child. Then I saw four bombs landing, landing. And I heard the noise – boop, boop. Boop, boop. And suddenly, the fire everywhere around me. And I – of course, my clothes are burned off by the fire. Then I saw the fire, all of my left arm. And I use my right hand. I rub it.

Jim: Yeah. To try to wipe off the napalm.

Kim: Exactly. Then that’s why it’s terrible pain here, burn here. And at that moment, I – I terrify. And I – I still remember my thought – oh, my goodness, I – I became ugly.

Jim: That’s what you thought right at that moment?

Kim: Yeah, because I got burned. I know that is – I wasn’t normal. And then I thought, people will see me different way. But that – right the moment, I was terrified. And I didn’t see anybody around me. And then I just ran out of that fire. And I saw my brothers one side, and then my cousin one side and some soldiers there. And we kept running and running.

Jim: Yeah. And you ran down that road. And of course, that’s where, uh, the Associated Press – I believe, uh, the gentleman who shot the photo, uh, he was on that road. And – and, uh, you became good friends with him, right?

Kim: Yes. I call him Uncle Ut.

Jim: Uncle Ut. And he took the picture. Describe what happened next, though. Uh, you’re not – obviously, you’re in pain. You’re on fire. And it’s not a – a literal fire, but the napalm is burning your flesh. And you’re there. And what happened?

Kim: When I felt so tired, I couldn’t run any more, I stop. Then I saw a lot of soldiers. At that moment, I just saw the soldiers, you know. I didn’t know a journalist. I didn’t know anyone there, just the soldiers and my – my brothers and my cousin. Then I stop, and I called out, “too hot. Too hot.” I was so tired. Then, I remember one of the soldiers gave me some water to drink. And then, because I cried out, “too hot, too hot,” he tried to help me. He poured water over me, over my skin. And that mean with the water, uh, react with napalm, is – mean cook more.

Jim: Yeah. Uh, the fire intensifies because it takes oxygen out of the water and burns your skin even more so.

Kim: And I pass out. 

Jim: And what took place? What did they do with you in that moment? You passed out, you’re laying on the road. Who took you there?

Kim: Number one, I learned from Uncle Ut, the photographer…

Jim: Yes.

Kim: …he told me later, after he took my picture he rushed me to the nearest hospital and he dropped me there. So he hurried, running to the darkroom to develop his film. And I was in the hospital nearby my village. As I was severely burned, so they moved me to another hospital in Saigon, a – first children hospital. Then I was there for three days. Now, another story I learned from my mom, that my mom and my brother found me in the morgue.

Jim: They found you in the morgue?

Kim: Yeah.

Jim: Did they know you were alive, or did – they thought you died?

Kim: I think they have no hope, no hope on that moment. I not blame them because, as I learned later, that there was so many patients arrive from different places around Vietnam. So there were so many of them, so I think they consider whosoever still alive that can have a treatment. But for me, it – it is no hope.

Jim: No hope. So they put you in the morgue.

Kim: Why they spend time with me?

Jim: So your mom finds you in the morgue. Have you talked to her over the years – I’m sure you did – about her emotions? What was she feeling, to see her little, beautiful daughter?

Kim: Uh – at that time, I believe that they have to do whatever they should do. I know that my mom suffer so much. 

Jim: Yes.

Kim: And, then, there’s a miracle happened. When she took my body from the morgue to the lobby, to the entrance of the hospital, uh, my dad arrive from another place, another hospital. And a miracle happened right there. Somehow, I learned from – another journalist tried to help me, Chris Wain. And then my father arrive. And then everything together, eventually they transfer me to the Barski burn clinic, where they have the best treatment.

Jim: And so you were admitted. And when did you wake up? Are you aware at this point what’s happening to you?

Kim: Wow. Um, I wish, uh, my memory not coming back because…

Jim: Well, it’s trauma. And I…

Kim: It’s just, uh, really…

Jim: …Appreciate that.

Kim: …Really scary when I remember. Every morning the nurse came to me and took me to the burn bath. Wow, that is a bad time for me. It’s, uh, so painful. And, um, they have to do that, to put my body in the burn bath with, uh, something, ingredients, uh, to make my dead skin, uh, you know, softer and easier to cut…

Jim: The dead skin off.

Kim: …All my dead skin off.

Jim: Right. And you’re 9 years old. 

Kim: Yes.

Jim: I mean, you had to be thinking, what is happening to me?

Kim: As a child, I didn’t think much. I just cry. And when I couldn’t cry anymore or bear the pain, you know, so I pass out.

Jim: Kim, just to wrap up that period of life for you, 16 surgeries. And what was happening spiritually for you? You were a peaceful person in a peaceful environment. And then war strikes your village. You are hit with napalm, a gel that burns your flesh. Um, you barely survived. Now you’re on a road to recovery, hopefully, probably not knowing if you will make it. What is your heart talking to you about? What are you – as a 9-year-old girl, what are you saying to yourself? What are your mother and father saying to you to try to help you?

Kim: Yes. Um, as you read my book, I was so touched and cry when I learn about my father. He spent all his time being with me.

Jim: Staying with you.

Kim: Yeah. Stay with me.

Jim: Probably crying for you.

Kim: Um, wow, that is so hard. Even now, I – every time I read my book, I cry. (Laughter) OK? My parents wish they can suffer for me rather…

Jim: Take that suffering.

Kim: …Rather take that suffer rather than that little girl.

Jim: Yeah.

Kim: Mm-hm. Anyhow…

Jim: That had to break her heart, to see their little girl suffering that much.

Kim: And I heard a lot of time that they prayed that I should die. And I – I didn’t understand why (laughter). But later, I understand that.

Jim: They didn’t want you to suffer.

Kim: More than that, in the wartime, people die and suddenly. Like, five minutes from now, you can die because of fire gun or bomb or shooting everywhere. So they want me to die before them.

Jim: To ensure you were taken care of.

Kim: Exactly.

Jim: Yeah.

Kim: They didn’t want that they died before me (crying) and no one took care of me. I think, Mom and Dad, so wonderful.

Jim: That’s the love of a parent, isn’t it?

Kim: Amen.

Jim: And it’s really the, uh, illustration, of the love of our Heavenly Father for us too.

Kim: Exactly. But I didn’t know at that moment – that is, I didn’t know that my God loved me that much. 

Jim: Did you know who that was in that moment? How did you…

Kim: In my religion that I was educated, raising that Cao – that Cao Dai, I have so much in my mind. It’s so many gods that I – I pray to. But during the time I growing up, I doubt about it.

Jim: You had some doubts about your faith.

Kim: About my faith, about God. Where are you, God? Why you let me suffer that much?

Jim: In that regard, um, I want to paint that picture for the difficulty of it. And we’re going to – you know, we’re going to cover your encounter with Christ and how that occurred. But we’re not quite there yet. And you’re going to have to come back – (laughter) – tomorrow because we’re running out of time today. But paint that picture for us about the feelings, coming home. 

Kim: Wow.

Jim: What did it mean to be a burn victim in Vietnam during the war, post-war? You come home to a – your family that’s trying to rebuild…

Kim: Yep.

Jim: …I would think. Um, what was that like for you?

Kim: Right. I remember, I was in hospital, I feel like normal because everyone was wounded, something. I didn’t feel, uh, different at all. But when I come home, I was alone. And I expect that I can play with my dear friends. And – but then the reality that they saw me different. I – I was so scars. I was so disabled, uh, ugly.

Jim: Disfigured, sure, from the burns.

Kim: Yeah. And – and then I lost that friendship. I was so lonely. I…

Jim: What would those kids say to you?

Kim: They scared to play with me.

Jim: They’re scared to play with you.

Kim: Yeah. Because, uh, you know, they saw my scar at the – at the beginning. Uh, it’s so hot, I hardly to cover my clothes. And so, uh, they can see my scar when I come home from the hospital.

Jim: And that’s your left arm, your back and down – down your back.

Kim: All – yeah. Yeah. Mm-hm.

Jim: So it – they had fear, and that fear drove them to alienate you.

Kim: And I was really clenched like that.

Jim: And your left hand was balled up.

Kim: Yeah. Like – mm-hm.

Jim: But that – that just – and I’m – you know, again, that happens in so many different ways within children and relationships with kids. I mean, how did you cope with that? How did you…

Kim: I’m so thankful with my family, my brother and sister and cousin. They really love me. And they helped me to do exercises every day. Honestly, it’s so painful that I didn’t want to do them. And I remember my mom just really – uh, she helped me a lot. And she make my life a little bit, every day, better. And I never forget what she say – “Kim, you are – as a – when you were a child, you looked so beautiful. But now, you know everybody love you. I love you so much. But I cannot carry on your pain. You have to deal with it. And please don’t cry.”

Jim: Oh, my goodness.

Kim: “It makes me cry. And if you don’t want to be disabled, you must do your exercises.” And I love my mom, and I obey my mom. I did. And she’s really right. Slowly, slowly, I got much better. As you can see now, I still have the scars. But I don’t have, uh – being as, uh, disabled like before. I got much better.

Jim: Your limbs function, but it’s the scars that remain.

Kim: Yes. And, uh, that is about physical pain, the scars. But this, uh – I have to deal with trauma and nightmare. It’s a lot. It’s, uh, not easy.

Jim: Uh, Kim, I hate to cut in right here, but we’re out of time. What an amazing story. And we need to hear more of how you walked through that physical pain. And most importantly, how you accepted Jesus Christ into your life, and the work you’re now doing today to bring the message of peace to victims of war. Uh, can you come back and be with us next time?
Kim: Yes. It’s great for me to come back tomorrow.

Closing:

Jim: And maybe today, as a listener, you’ve been thinking of your own “fire road.” Uh, maybe a difficult circumstance that God has made you walk down and you need someone to talk to. We have caring, Christian counselors available on staff to help you walk through past hurt or pain. Maybe you’ve been listening along and you’ve never put your faith in Jesus Christ – I know you’re there. And you’ve been hearing Kim’s story and want to know peace in your heart. If that’s the case we want to pray with you and send you free bible so you can understand God’s love for you. His concern for you. And His future for you.

John: And you can talk with a counselor and ask for a Bible when you call 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459.

Jim: John, also today’s broadcast highlights one reason we’re here and that is to share amazing stories like Kim’s that strengthen you in your faith and give you hope of a better future. And we need your financial help to continue in our efforts to share the good news of Jesus Christ. The broadcast costs money to produce and to distribute. And know that your donation not only helps keep the broadcast going, but it also helps produce resources and provide tools, such as the bible, to all those who need it – free of charge. 

John: Yeah. So join our team. Make a monthly donation, become a monthly partner with Focus on the Family, and we’ll send Kim’s book to you as our thank you gift.

And when you get in touch, also, please, make sure that you get the CD or the instant download of the two-part conversation. 

Stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 1-800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 

On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we hear more from Kim Phuc Phan Thi, and once again help you and your family thrive in Christ!

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Fire Road

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