Tuesday, June 1, 2010


"If there was one photograph that captured the horrific nature of the Vietnam war, one photograph that tore at our collective conscience, it was the picture of a nine year old girl, running naked down a road, screaming in agony from the jellied gasoline coating her body and burning through skin and muscle down the bone. Her village in the Central Highlands of Vietnam was napalmed that day on June 8,1972, and the little girl took a direct hit. It would take many years, and 17 operations to save her life."

Most of us live out our lives in relative obscurity. When we have hurt another, when we have failed, when we have grievously wounded it is kept in a small closed circle. But imagine if the thing you most regret were to be splashed across the front page of every newspaper in the world. Imagine if that one dread moment became the thing that defined you. John Plummer doesn’t need to imagine. It happened to him.

John Plummer is a Methodist pastor living in a quiet town in Virginia. He visits the elderly, prays for the sick and preaches every Sunday. But this is not what defines him. Or at least, what once did.

John Plummer is also the pilot that, during the Vietnam War, organized the Napalm raid on the village of Trang Bang in 1972. And what he did was forever immortalized by the award-winning photograph of one of its victims, a nine-year-old girl, Phan Thi Kim Phuc.

John was haunted by the photo of the naked burning child, terrified and running, her arms

stretched out, her flesh afire. He had done that to her. For twenty- four years he looked for her, trying everything he could just so that he could tell her that he had not meant this dreadful thing. It was more than wanting. It was a need that ate away at him until he lost his wife and his health and his hope.

His friends reached out to help him. They reminded him that he had tried to make sure that as many innocent people as possible had been removed from the area. He had done it for a greater good. None of these things meant anything. Her face condemned him. There was no peace for a man like him.

And then it happened. One of those amazing moments that non-believers speak of as coincidence and those who know the Father know as His merciful grace. It was Veterans Day, 1996. John, along with a group of fellow pilots, had traveled to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Officially they were there to honor those who had given their lives. But each man knew that every year they went hoping for a measure of freedom from the guilt that haunted them.

The crowd gathered at the memorial hushed as a small woman took the stage and spoke into the microphone and said "I am Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the girl made famous by a photograph after suffering a Napalm attack by American forces"

John froze. He could not take it in. For twenty- four years he had longed for her and she was now so near. Her voice continued " I am not bitter, even though the burns I suffered even to this day cause me pain. I long ago forgave the one who bombed our village"

John was beside himself, yelling, pushing his way through the crowd. Security surrounded him but he persisted. "I am the one!" he shouted "I am the man who did this to you!" She came down from the stage, the only one who could free him and he fell into her arms. For every time he sobbed out " I am so sorry" her voice rose to cover his. "It is OK. I have forgiven you".

Phan invited John to meet her at her hotel later that evening. Sitting side by side she once again assured him of her forgiveness. In her grace she had set him free. In one encounter she had ended twenty four years of anguish for a man who had longed for release.

I thank my brother Mike for reminding us of 8 June 1972

A contribution from a reader HERE


Anonymous said...

"To err is human, to forgive, divine." ~ Alexander Pope

Kudos to Kim Phuc, who is graceful in forgiving John Plummer.

TYKO said...

This reality touches my heart too. Yes, we shall forgive but we shouldn't forget so that we could learn from the mistake that we have done in our life or else we will keep repeating our mistakes.

bennyloh said...

I was a young boy looking at that girl on the "asia magazine" cover.( not mistaken the "asia magazine" comes with the Straits Time on Sundays) All these years I never forgot that terrified girl's face.
I was the happiest person reading this same story about five years ago.

Aaron said...

I saw the photo, and read this article with tears streaming down my face, imagine me, a 40 yr old grown man.

May the Good Lord bless Kim who found ample place in her heart to forgive the man who dropped the bomb on her.

May the Good Lord bless John Plummer too, for having the heart to seek forgiveness from a little girl whom he hurt with devastating fire, amidst the horrors of war.

If everyone in the world can be like John & Kim, who can SEEK forgiveness as well as to FORGIVE, the world will surely be peaceful.


Anonymous said...

During my post-grad studies, a visiting lecturer from Vietnam came and spoke about the war in her country. She said: "You call it the Vietnam War, we call it the American War. You call it the Fall of Saigon, we call it the Unification of Vietnam."
It's a matter of perspective. No one has the right to tell you what you should think and feel, to push his or her agenda down your throat.
Bringing this closer to home: we have the right to determine the system of government that we should have - whether it should remain as a constitutional monarchy or be made into a republic. We have the right to determine what is right and what is wrong - not the government-of-the-day. We have the conscience and we have the intelligence to decide.
We have come to an interesting situation in this country: the ruling coalition is holding on to power through fear and intimidation, it is actually falling apart; a great number of people have been sensitised and want a say in the kind of government and laws that Malaysia should have; the Internet has allowed a public sphere for people to air their grievances and discuss issues. We are ripe and ready for a change - and the form and shape of the change must be determined by us.

Doreen / ME136

Chicken Feet aka KaKiaYam said...

sigh...so touching...

Anonymous said...

In that same era, Cambodia was carpet-bombed ... though there's no child photographed to draw international attention to it.

Samuel Goh Kim Eng said...


It's only when you fully forgive
That you'll receive total relief
Putting into practice what you in God believe
When we all know that human lives on earth is brief

(C) Samuel Goh Kim Eng - 010610
Tue. 1st June 2010.

zorro said...

Doreen...spot on.
ME136....Marriage Encounter?

Anon701pm...I am sure photographs of suffering children were taken. It just so happened that it did not get the exposure this photo got...being winner of the Pulitzer prize. Anyway the intention of this post was not to compare Vietnam with Cambodia or Laos.

Li Huat Chai said...

Am so happy to see Kim smiling...

What a relief, the pain is all gone...

God bless all the good people !!!

Anonymous said...

Kim Phuc is indeed an attractive woman, far better looking than some country First Lady huh...

Wonder that First Lady could consider napalm herself to better look like Kim Phuc?

evilme said...

So true. You can see the sincerity in the face, on the other hand you see a witch in the so call first lady evil smile..hehehe

Anonymous said...

Moral of the story... Vietnam will overtake Malaysia soon.

sampalee said...

To all self serving politicians using[abusing]the Rakyats as pawns,repent now and we have the compassion to forgive.
Lets heal the nation with all bn and pr members resign.RPK can return and lead the nation with the support of SB

Wg Tan said...

Hi Br Bernard

Thx for the pix & the storu of the girl in the Napalm incident

I m presently in Lambakin Jaen Nueva Ecija Central Luzon in the Philippines on a soul searching holiday until near end of June 2010.

There r just too many stories to tell about the place , the people, the syste, the extreme poor, the extreme rich, the exploited the hopefuls etc etc etc, since my arrival here on 24th May last month. I ve since posted all these that I saw on my facebook http://www.facebook.com/Wg Tan
hoping to share with as many as i possibly can... althoigh they may poor economically, i can assure one & ALl that these REAL filipino people of the barios n barangays ( villages & outskirts) have never lost hope n r the most compassionate people
If there is anything that the world can do is to lend a helping hand in whatever way they deem fit.

I can be contacted via this page which I fondly follow n also thru my email shud any kind souls out there wud like to contact me

waraming salamat
( many many thankss)

maj(rtd) haji muhammad bin abdullah @ tan wah guan

Anonymous said...

Dear Uncle Zorro

There's more to the story.
Form BBC News:


Phua Kai Lit

pinsysu said...

an ordinary human blessed with extraordinary faith & courage transformed a wounded soul into a gem. silver shines brightly after going thru fire when impurities are removed. God bless Kim & her family.

Bananazஇ said...

Great post! Very touched was moved to tears with her powerful message of compassion, wisdom and true love to heal her heart. May Kim and family be well and happy. Shalom. tQ

maj (rtd) haji muhammad bin abdullah @ tan wah guan said...

Wg Tan shud some not be able to get into the page...this is the link..


Iqra....Read.... Baca....

my two cents worth


Anonymous said...

Atrocities during war done intentionally or as the outcome of collateral damage should be condemned by all right-thinking people.

What about similar atrocities perpetrated on citizens of the country under the mantle of ketuanan mindset?

How to reconcile the fact that human lives are wasted in police custody and the wanton shooting of unarmed citizens especially when the authorities concerned do not abhor such crimes but try to hoodwink with their stupid press statements?

Apartheid and its ugly manifestations have ruined many countries but our stupid government is still hellbent on creating a master race which is the ultimate goal of all racists.

Will we ever be free from these slime balls who are forever using race and religion to achieve their nefarious goals?

Whoever thinks of Mamak Kutty as a great statesman is completely out of his mind. He is the mother of all racists. He only condemns atrocities against Muslims but is stone deaf and blind when it happens to others.