Scars That Heal

It was one of the most poignant snapshots of the Vietnam War: a little girl running naked down the street, her eyes wide with terror, screaming in pain. At the time, I was President Nixon's assistant in the White House, dealing with decisions involving the Vietnam War, and I was deeply affected by that picture. Twenty-four years after that picture was taken, Americans finally found out what happened to that little girl. Another picture, taken on Veteran's Day, reveals a vivacious young woman laying a wreath at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. As a child, Kim Phuc brought home to Americans the horrors of war. Today, she's teaching us another lesson: the healing power of forgiveness. As she laid the wreath at the wall, Kim told the assembled veterans: "As you know, I am the little girl who was running to escape from the napalm fire. I have suffered a lot from both physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I thought I could not live, but God saved my life and gave me faith and hope." Speaking to America's Vietnam veterans is the latest chapter in an extraordinary life story. In the moments after the napalm attack, Kim was taken to a hospital by Nick Ut, the Associated Press photographer who had just snapped her picture. Years of painful burn therapy followed. After the war, Kim enrolled at a university in Saigon, hoping to become a doctor. Unfortunately, she was far too valuable as a propaganda tool. When government officials found out that she was "the girl in the photo," they yanked her out of school and put her to work as a secretary in a government office. There she was expected to roll up her sleeves and show her scars to any visitor who dropped by. In 1986 the Vietnamese government sent Kim to Cuba to study and to mount goodwill missions. There she met and married Bui Huy Toan, an evangelical Christian, and Kim herself became a believer. In 1992 on their way home from their honeymoon in Moscow, Kim and her husband defected to Canada. The couple now live in Toronto with their two-year-old son. Kim recently told National Public Radio that she and her husband hope to raise enough money to attend Bible college together. Their goal is to equip themselves to share the gospel with the Vietnamese people. Well, Kim has already shared the meaning of forgiveness with thousands of toughened soldiers. At the Veteran's Day ceremony, Kim publicly forgave the unknown pilot whose load of napalm seared her skin and killed her grandmother and two younger brothers. "Even if I could talk face-to-face with the pilot who dropped the bomb," 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." At that point, according to one newspaper account, many of the veterans present began to weep. Kim Phuc's story reminds us of what only the gospel can provide: the basis for forgiveness and reconciliation. Kim Phuc was able to forgive the soldiers who nearly destroyed her life because she knows that at the Cross, God not only reconciled us to Himself, He also reconciled us to each other. And, oh yes, thank you Kim. I'm one of those who have lived with painful memories of that photo.


Chuck Colson


  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary