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Kim Phu Phan Thi: Spreading the Message of Forgiveness

Article Re-posted with permission of The Pottstown Mercury

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The worst day of Kim Phuc Phan Thi’s life was captured in a photograph.

“Someone began screaming, ‘Too hot! Too hot!” Kim Phuc, now 50, told the Valley Forge Baptist Temple congregation Sunday during a nighttime service. “That someone was me.”A South Vietnamese warplane mistakenly dropped four napalm canisters on 9-year-old Kim Phuc Phan Thi and other civilians — many of them children ­— as they ran out of the temple in Trang Bang they used for shelter.

The image of her running down the road, clothes burnt off, surrounded by her crying siblings and a cousin, was seared into the world’s consciousness.

Although Nick Ut’s photo shows the moments when her life changed forever, Kim Phuc embraces it.

“(It) touched people’s hearts,” she said of the 1972 photograph that won the Pulitzer Prize. “Some say it helped end the war.”

Kim Phuc is very concerned with people’s hearts. That’s why she tells her story, she said, and why she came to Valley Forge Baptist Temple for the weekend.

“That’s why (I speak),” she told The Mercury. “I can see the (trouble) people have in their hearts … how can I not come here?”

Kim Phuc, wearing a brilliant red and gold dress, spoke before the congregation in the church’s nearly full auditorium.

Audible gasps came when a video taken moments after the napalm attack showed Kim Phuc and her relatives’ skin hanging like loose socks or gloves from their feet and hands. Two of her infant cousins were mortally wounded in the attack and Kim Phuc suffered scars she still bears on her arm and back.

Kim Phuc’s voice was relatively quiet but confident during her talk. Engaging, she constantly smiled and made a few jokes.

Discussing the blazing temperature of napalm, she described how her skin could have burnt off.

“But my skin, my face, still beautiful, right?” she said to laughs, smiling and placing her hands on her cheeks.

Kim Phuc spoke of her wounds, which would require 17 surgeries, the last coming in Germany in 1984. She explained how Ut saved her life by taking her to a nearby hospital. She talked about how her parents went to the hospital and found her three days later, laying in the morgue because no one expected her to survive. She spoke of her father’s friend pulling some strings and sending her to a different hospital, where she remained for 14 months.

Not only that, she also talked about having her dreams of being a doctor derailed by the Vietnamese government who wished to use her as a “war symbol,” of being sent to Cuba, where she found her husband, then only being able to take a honeymoon to Moscow. Finally, she detailed her defection to Canada during an hour-long refueling layover, leaving behind all her possessions and money.

Above all, she talked of forgiveness and letting go of the pain in her heart from all her struggles.

“I did not one day wake up and say, ‘I forgive,’” she said. “(It) wasn’t easy at all.”

At one point, she held up a glass of black coffee, which she likened to her heart following the bombing.

Tipping the cup of coffee, she dripped a little into an empty glass several times.

“(I was) pouring out my hate, a little bit at a time,” she said. “At first, the cup would fill back up.”

But after time, she said, “My cup was empty.”

She credited her faith in God helping her on the road to letting go and forgiving. Ten years after she was burned, she said she was in a library and found a copy of the Bible. She’s been a devout Christian since.

Instead of hate and despair, she said God filled her heart with the good things in life.

In the 1990s, Kim Phuc met with a U.S. veteran who took part in the accidental bombing of Trang Bang. She showed a video Sunday in which the veteran tracked her down and she forgave him for his mistake.

“I found that forgiveness is much more powerful than any weapon of war,” she said.

“It’s amazing to know she survived and she escaped communism and escaped a life that would have been controlled by communism and false religion.” said the Rev. Scott Wendal, pastor of Valley Forge Baptist.

He said his church was “very deeply moved” to listen to Kim Phuc and her devotion to her Christianity.

Several veterans of the Vietnam War were in attendance Sunday night and a few shook her hand following the service.

“Hearing her meant a lot to them,” Wendal said. “To know her sufferings and challenges and to not become bitter, to choose a life of forgiveness, is a very healing experience for them.”

“I went through so much and I knew the value of forgiveness. I want everyone to understand the value of having a clear heart,” Kim Phuc said after the service. “I don’t have anything to give. I have a message of peace.”

Since the mid 1990s, Kim Phuc has run The Kim Foundation International, a non-profit which provides funds to children who are victims of war or terrorism.

With the infamous photo projected onto the church wall, Kim Phuc re-purposed it.

“I came through the fire and I am blessed to be here with you today,” Kim Phuc said. “When you see the photo of the little girl running up the road, try not to see her as crying out in pain … see her as crying out for peace.”

Meeting with members of the congregation after the services, Kim Phuc occasionally lifted the sleeve of her dress to show her scars.

“The napalm can burn my body,” she said after the flow of people slowed down. “But it cannot burn my dreams, it cannot burn my hope, it cannot burn my heart.”

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Article by Frank Otto
Reporter, Pottstown Mercury 
Read the original article here.

Veteran’s Story Told

A LOCAL VETERAN & PRISONER OF WAR SHARES HIS STORY WITH HOLLYWOOD

Veteran Don Evans was flown to Hollywood to share his account of real tank battles in Germany during World War 2.  He spoke with actors Brad Pitt and Shia LaBeouf as they prepare for their upcoming film Fury.  Don Evans was wounded and captured as a POW when mortar fire hit his tank and blinded him.  When US forces liberated the German people from the Nazis, Evans and other POW’s were freed to come home. Evans only regained  sight in one of his eyes.

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A double purple heart recipient, Evans shared events of his recent trip to Hollywood with his church family, Valley Forge Baptist Temple, where he serves as a deacon.  One church member expressed how grateful he is to know Don Evans personally – “He is a true American hero.” Another person said,  “…he is someone we can point our children to as a role model as opposed to what we often see highlighted by the media today.”   Evans’ family accompanied him to Hollywood  where he spoke to several actors and film directors.

Don Evans has published his memoirs in his book, The Odyssey of an Iron Knight .  This book may be purchased from the Valley Forge Baptist Bookstore.