Kim Phuc Visits with VVAW
By Barry Romo
Her picture will always be with those of us served in Vietnam. A slender pre-teen girl running and running from American bombs, already horribly burned from American napalm.
This photo became a symbol of the American policy of massive retaliation and its real human consequences. The photo and the news film of that girl, Kim Phuc, have been suspended in time.
Kim has grown up. She's thirty-something and the mother of a two-year-old son. She now lives in Canada, not as a symbol caught in history, but as a human being. Kim visited with VVAW in Chicago over November 12-14, 1996, immediately following her historic appearance at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC on Veterans Day. It's rare that a person lives up to her symbolic significance, but let me quote Kim about fame: "I am not famous, my photo is. If the photographer had taken it two minutes earlier or two minutes later, there would have been no photo. Millions are hurt in war, they just don't have their photo taken, so they don't exist. I must speak for them. Why fight? For what? People who are fighting are just destroying. We live in love and we should live in peace."
Kim Phuc visited with VVAW for three days, and despite the fact that she was always in pain (she almost died that June day in 1972), she exuded joy and love and humanity. People felt good being around her. At Columbia College (Chicago) Kim talked about growing up and how ugly she felt. About how much she wanted just to wear short sleeves but couldn't because of her scars. A student responded with tears in her eyes, "You should never worry about your scars. You are the most beautiful person inside." Another responded, "You are like an angel who has come to us." Kim affected vets and VVAW the same way. Her presence was a reaffirmation of our war on war, that so-called "foreigners" are human beings, not "collateral damage."
Barry Romo is a National Coordinator of VVAW.
Kim Phuc (center) with Joel Greenberg and Annie Luginbill, Chicago 1996