Picture of Kim Phuc taken by Nick Ut
Story taken from The Heart of Goodness by Jo Ann Larsen
“Nor does caring ignore circumstances, perpetuated by itself, that have unintentionally hurt someone. An extreme example of this is the story of Reverend John Plummer, as told by Anne Gearan, a newspaper writer.
Plummer, in June 1972, ordered bombers to rain fire on the village of Trang Bang during the Vietnam War. The mission was a success and “South Vietnamese bombers smoothly dropped heavy explosives and napalm canisters on the village twenty-five miles west of Saigon.”
After, by radio, the American adviser thanked Plummer and, pleased the mission had been a success, Plummer turned his mind to other matters. Plummer was pleased, that is, until he saw the newspaper picture of an anguished nine-year-old Vietnamese girl screaming and running naked toward the lens of a camera as she fled an American-led assault on her village that killed her two brothers. The picture of Kim, taken by Nick Ut, was to become a Pulitzer Prize winner and one the world would come to know. The picture itself, one of the most indelible images of the Vietnam War, ultimately helped turn American public opinion against the war. Says Gearan of the picture, “a brutal image from a brutal war, it is imprinted on the American psyche.”
The young girl’s name was Phan Thi Kim Phuc. And Plummer will never forget the moment he saw the picture, “the anguished face of a little boy about his son’s age, and, behind him, Kim.” The napalm had incinerated Kim’s clothes. Her eyes were “screwed shut, her mouth spread wide in terror and uncomprehending pain.” And “her arms flapped awkwardly, as though she did not recognize them as her own.”
For Plummer, the shock was profound. He had been told there were no civilians in the village. He could hardly comprehend the picture, which “knocked him to his knees.” After that, Plummer struggled for the next twenty-five years with his conscience, never able to disengage from unanticipated flashes of the famous picture. Now it was Plummer who was in agony. He drank. He divorced several times. He searched for, and finally found, God. But he rarely talked about his experience. And he never preached about it—until he experienced the following event.
It was June 1997, while Plummer was absently watching television, that a photo of Kim flashed across the screen and an announcement “promised a story about the girl in the photo, grown now and with a child of her own.” Again, Plummer was in shock. He had never known whether or not the young girl had lived. Watching the special, he “saw for the first time the thick white scars the splashing napalm left on Kim’s neck, arm and back. He learned how she had seventeen operations but still lives with pain.”
Later, learning a week before Veterans Day that Kim was making a rare appearance in Washington, D.C., ninety minutes from his home, Plummer knew he had to see her. “It took a long time, but I came to realize I would never have any peace unless I could talk to Kim, ” he said. “I had to look her in the eyes and say how sorry I am.”
So that autumn, “Plummer went to Washington, to hear Kim address the Veterans Day observance at the black granite monument that bears the name of each American who never came home from war a generation ago. And, sitting in the audience, he heard something he never expected to hear: ‘If I could talk face-to-face with the pilot who dropped the bombs,’ Kim said, “I would tell him we cannot change history but we should try to do good things for the present and for the future to promote peace.’
“Plummer gasped. It was as though she was talking directly to him.”
He scribbled a note–“Kim, I am that man” and asked a police officer to carry the note to her; thereafter he began pushing his way through the crowd toward Kim. Informed that Plummer was behind her, Kim took a few steps away, and then she stopped. “I couldn’t move anymore. I stop and I turn, and he looked at me,” she said.
“No news photographer took this picture,” notes Gearan. “But in the lee of the Vietnam War Memorial, the soldier, now forty-nine, and the child, now thirty-three, embraced.”
Says Plummer of the experience, “She just opened her arms to me. I fell into her arms sobbing. All I could says is, “I’m so sorry. I’m just so sorry.”
Kim “patted Plummer’s back. ‘It’s all right,’ she told him. ‘I forgive, I forgive.”
Wow, I do not know about you, but every time I read this story I am in tears. I hope it touches your heart and makes you feel a place we all can strive to be—at peace, willing to forgive those people and circumstances in our lives that make us better people in the end.
Have a beautiful day. -H