LA Based ‘Napalm Girl’ Photographer Retires After 51 Years

Legendary Los Angeles-based photographer Nick Ut, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1972 photo that became an iconic image of the Vietnam War, is retiring after a 51 year career with the Associated Press.
Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

“Nick Ut, through his hauntingly beautiful photography, has chronicled history and captivated the world’s attention, leaving a legacy for future generations,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Board Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, who recognized Ut proclaiming April 4, 2017 as Nick Ut Day in the County of Los Angeles.

Born in Vietnam in 1951, Ut was 15 when his brother and war photographer, Huynh Thanh My, was killed at war in 1965. Promising to himself that he would continue his brother’s mission of taking a photo that would end the war, Ut showed up at the AP’s Saigon bureau, seeking a job.

He was only 21 when he took the famed photo of a naked 9-year-old girl fleeing her village after a napalm attack on June 8, 1972. At 12:30 p.m. that day, four napalm bombs were dropped on Trang Bang. Nick watched in horror as people emerged from the fireball and smoke. He photographed a grandmother carrying a baby who died in her arms. He then photographed nine-year-old Kim Phuc whose clothes had been burned off her and whose skin was beginning to melt off of her body in strips. Badly in need of immediate medical attention, Kim had third-degree burns on more than 30 percent of her body. Nick set his camera aside, covered her with a raincoat and drove Kim and other injured children to a hospital in nearby Cu Chi. After the hospital refused to admit her, Ut used his media credentials to get her treated by doctors who ultimately saved her life.

“I cried when I saw her running,” Ut once told an AP reporter. “If I don’t help her — if something happened and she died — I think I’d kill myself after that.” Ut is still close with the now 53-year-old Kim Phúc who is a wife and mother of two.

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim's cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

South Vietnamese forces follow after terrified children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, as they run down Route 1 near Trang Bang after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places, June 8, 1972. A South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its flaming napalm on South Vietnamese troops and civilians. The terrified girl had ripped off her burning clothes while fleeing. The children from left to right are: Phan Thanh Tam, younger brother of Kim Phuc, who lost an eye, Phan Thanh Phouc, youngest brother of Kim Phuc, Kim Phuc, and Kim’s cousins Ho Van Bon, and Ho Thi Ting. Behind them are soldiers of the Vietnam Army 25th Division. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Nick Ut was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his photograph of Kim, which is credited with swaying public opinion against the war in Vietnam.

Los Angeles police form a line to prevent a crowd from going into a building, April 30, 1992, in a day of fires and looting. It was a long day as officers moved from trouble spot to trouble spot. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Los Angeles police form a line to prevent a crowd from going into a building, April 30, 1992, in a day of fires and looting. It was a long day as officers moved from trouble spot to trouble spot. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Ut would go on to take tens of thousands of photos over the next 44 years. After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Ut came to California as a refugee. AP sent him to Tokyo, and then to Los Angeles in 1977. He became a fixture in Los Angeles, where his images from the 1992 civil unrest, the O.J. Simpson trial, and the recent brush fires became an international lens to tell the story of current events in Los Angeles County.

During his retirement, he plans to spend time with his family, especially his grandchildren, teaching photography, and, yes, taking more pictures. “I’ll take pictures until I die,” says Ut. “My camera is like my doctor, my medicine.”

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors

Photo by David Franco/Board of Supervisors