Thursday, May 7, 2015
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Little girl all grown up brings lessons from her past

MarionFranckW

By
From page A8 | July 20, 2014 |

* Editor’s note: Marion is taking the week off. This column first ran in February 2007.

To Western minds like mine, one of the great modern mysteries is the selection of the Dalai Lama.

The current one was plucked from obscurity, from a poor hamlet in Tibet, at age three, the fifth of 16 children. He went on to become a monk, author of a dozen books, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and a man of wisdom, respected by world leaders of all stripes.

In short, he fulfilled his unexpected destiny to perfection. But in the beginning he was an ordinary three-year-old. How does this kind of thing happen?

The question comes to mind as I reflect on last week’s speaker at the Mondavi Center, Kim Phuc, known as “the girl in the picture.” She, too, was plucked from obscurity, chosen not by a Buddhist monk but by a napalm bomb.

The bomb destroyed the South Vietnamese village where Phuc’s family was hiding on June 8, 1972. As Phuc, 9, fled with other children, screaming, naked, arms akimbo, burned over 65 percent of her body, a photographer snapped a picture.

The world shuddered at that photo, perhaps hastening the end of the war.

Because the photograph still moves me, you’d think I would have rushed to buy a ticket to Phuc’s speech when they became available months ago.

I didn’t. This is because I assumed that someone was manipulating the now grown girl, placing her before the public because American audiences would like to see her.

What were the chances that this 44-year-old woman was remarkable in her own right? How could a girl from a small town in Vietnam have much sophistication, let alone the ability to speak good English?

I expected to be disappointed by her performance, as I have been by other people who became famous by accident. I wanted her to remain the girl in the photo.

A month ago, however, I heard that she’d be participating in a free afternoon panel, and I decided to go. Then a friend offered me a ticket to the evening performance, so I went to that, too.

I have been richly rewarded for those decisions, so I want to share some of what I learned.

First, more about the photo.

All of the other children in the photo were Phuc’s relatives. The boy with the huge wailing mouth is her older brother, who died two years ago. Her younger brother and two cousins are also running. Two other cousins, not in the photo, were babies who died in the attack.

The photographer was a young Vietnamese man named Nick Ut, then 21, who worked for the Associated Press (and still does). He won a Pulitzer Prize for the photo, but Phuc honors him as the man who took her to the hospital and saw to it that she got help for her burns.

They speak every week.

The serviceman who claimed to have coordinated the air strike was a slim-faced American, John Plummer, who spent years in alcoholism and failed relationships after the war. In 1996, however, he met Phuc after she spoke at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., and received her forgiveness. He calls it the moment that changed his life.

Some have questioned his role in the bombing, but whatever Plummer’s truth may be, Phuc’s desire to forgive is one of many clues to who she has become.

At first, things didn’t look good. According to Phuc, the post-war Vietnamese government used her for propaganda, as a “war symbol for the state,” thwarting her plans to attend medical school. (She had been accepted after achieving a stellar grade point average). She was constantly supervised.

Finally, she convinced an important dignitary to restore her privacy, and she continued her education in Cuba. There she met her husband, also from Vietnam, and on the flight home from their honeymoon told him she wanted to defect. They did so during a refueling stop, in Gander, Newfoundland.

She and her husband have two children, one the same age as she is in the picture, and Canadian citizenship.

Kim never became a doctor but she said, “dear friends, sometimes our dream changes.”

In 1996 she helped create the foundation named for her, the Kim Foundation International, dedicated to helping child victims of war. She calls it her mission. I presume that public speaking is part of how she raises money.

Phuc is soft-spoken, walks with dignity, and has a big smile. Her English is lovely: clear and beautiful. She is comfortable rolling up her sleeve to show us her burned arm.

At the afternoon session, she also showed us a new photo, in which she holds her infant son with her heavily scarred back and shoulders in clear view.

That second photo means hope to her, and forgiveness. She said, “Faith and forgiveness are more powerful than napalm could ever be.” Despite continuing pain from her burns, she accepts her famous war photo as “a powerful gift.”

Listening to her, I felt myself in the presence of someone spiritual, not unlike the Dalai Lama, someone who took the unexpected, painful, public life she was handed and made it into an opportunity to do something for others.

I am glad I went to hear her.

I am humbled by her vision and her strength.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at [email protected]

Comments

comments

  • Recent Posts

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this newspaper and receive notifications of new articles by email.

  • .

    News

    Internationally known musician Butterscotch brings it home for Whole Earth

    By Landon Christensen | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    May’s ArtAbout is a wheely big show

    By Sandy Thai | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Whole Earth Festival honors ‘Rooted Living’

    By Tanya Perez | From Page: A1 | Gallery

     
    Colleges move to expand services for immigrant students

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A1 | Gallery

    Fourth of July concessionaires solicited

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3Comments are off for this post

     
    Per Capita Davis: A shout-out to Cool Davis

    By John Mott-Smith | From Page: A3

    Learn all about bats on a Putah Creek night tour

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

     
    U.S. gives farmers approval to spray crops from drones

    By The Associated Press | From Page: A3 | Gallery

    Concert aims to fund wheelchair-accessible van

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

     
    Nesbitt speaks at Senior Health and Fitness Day

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3

    Don’t forget STEAC’s food drive Saturday

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A4

     
    Sudwerk celebration marks debut of new mural

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4 | Gallery

     
    Davis Bicycles! members always step up

    By Bob Schultz | From Page: A4

     
    Awards recognize work with special-needs students

    By Jeff Hudson | From Page: A6

    Independent study enrollment underway

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A6

     
    Tour de Cluck tickets on sale now

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7 | Gallery

    .

    Forum

     
    The big problem with the new SAT

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A8

    The Davis I knew is gone …

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

     
    Recruit blacks for police jobs

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

    Thank you, Davis pet community

    By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A8

     
    .

    Sports

    Devils end regular season with a bang

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD’s Vivolo is league’s top linkster

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Hot-shooting Aggie women open NCAA golf regionals

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    UCD hoopsters honored for community outreach

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B1 | Gallery

    Tour of California to speed through Davis

    By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

     
    Sports briefs: Aggie Nixon wins BW weekly award

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B2

     
    Youth roundup: Diamonds rock Regionals in Long Beach

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3 | Gallery

    Junior wrestlers and their coaches compete in Natomas

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: B3

     
    Pro baseball roundup: Aces double down on River Cats, 6-3

    By Staff and wire reports | From Page: B10

    .

    Features

    DHS journalism students auctioning variety of services

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    Young journalists have Birch Lane covered

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: B4 | Gallery

    Rec Report: May is Water Safety Month

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: B4

     
    What’s happening

    By Anne Ternus-Bellamy | From Page: B4

    SHED, a modern grange in Healdsburg

    By Ann Evans | From Page: A10 | Gallery

     
    A century of life, love and happiness

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A10

    .

    Arts

     
    Disco dance party set Sunday at I-House

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    Choral concert to present ‘Songs of Peace’

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

     
    ‘The Art of Being an Aggie’ extended to May 22

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A5

    The Show Ponies to perform at Davis Bike Collective

    By Enterprise staff | From Page: A5

     
    Local boys return with band KALYDE for Whole Earth Fesitval

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9

    The question is: Is there craft beer?

    By Michael Lewis | From Page: A9

     
    Winners of Student Writing Contest featured at Stories on Stage Davis

    By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A9 | Gallery

     
    .

    Business

    .

    Obituaries

    .

    Comics

    Comics: Thursday, May 7, 2015

    By Creator | From Page: B8