Richard Pelletier of “Five Cool Things” writes for Better, Smarter, Richer


"Girl in the Picture" photograph by Nick Ut

“Girl in the Picture” photograph by Nick Ut
Kim Phuc, the Vietnamese girl pictured fleeing from a napalm attack is one of the most famous images of the Vietnam War.

Richard Pelletier, writer/photographer extraordinaire, contributes a moving guest blog.  (Warning…. you may need a tissue.)  Thank you Richard, what a beautiful tribute to CREATIVES!!………….

Some years ago, I had the very great honor to meet Kim Phuc, who is widely known as the “Girl in the Picture.” Kim is the little girl who was photographed running naked and burned, down a dirt road during the waning days of the Viet-Nam war. She had been burned by napalm. (It’s less widely known that her injuries were the result of friendly fire — the South Vietnamese Air Force was in disarray and on that day, they mistakenly bombed their own people and villages.) 

 Kim’s photo appeared on the covers of magazines all over the world, and that one photograph changed the course of the war. At the time her photograph appeared, I was draft age — this was 1974. Two years earlier, my mother had voted for Richard Nixon, in a rare departure from our family tradition of NEVER voting Republican. I was pretty shocked that she had done that. When Time magazine showed up in the mail one day with Kim’s photo on the cover, I held the magazine in front of my dear mother’s face and said with the righteous indignation that only a 20 something year old can muster, “You voted for more of this.” I don’t remember what my mother said in response. 

 When I met Kim, on a farm in upstate New York, she was well into adulthood. We met because we were both attending a photojournalism workshop at the home of famed photojournalist, Eddie Adams. I worked for Kodak — they were underwriting the workshop and she was attending with Nick Ut, the photographer who made the famous photograph. They often traveled together giving talks and presentations. 

 When I saw her, I was stunned. We don’t often have the opportunity to meet people who have walked out of the pages of history. I felt profound gratitude to have had the chance to meet her. When I told her that her photo had entered my family’s home and life and dialogue, she put her arms around me and we embraced for a long, long minute. I don’t remember her exact words, I just remember her saying my name, “Richard….” with an expression of deep compassion. 

At that time, and possibly still today, she was an emissary for peace at the UN. Kim Phuc is alive today only because of the efforts of photographers — CREATIVES. CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS. The photographer who made the picture, Nick Ut, scooped her up after he took the photo and took her to the hospital. Then, a few days later, a pair of American photographers — again, CREATIVES, got her moved from a Vietnamese hospital to an American one. Her care at that American hospital is the only reason she is alive today. Her father visited every day — and traveled long distances to be with her. He often had to leave the building while young Kim was being bathed and cleaned — he was unable to withstand her screams of pain. 

 Her survival is a testament to the power of story. And who gives us stories? CREATIVES. WRITERS. PHOTOGRAPHERS. And Jackie, that is why I love working with you — you recognize creatives as uniquely gifted creatures. I love that about you. 

I have always felt like I was part of this wonderful tribe – of artists, writers, painters, musicians, sculptors, photographers. What is difficult sometimes is to summon the courage to get in the game all the way and claim your spot. And to stay there, to keep doing the work. To take the slings and arrows and keep after it. 

 But that’s why we have you, Jackie. To help us get there…and to stay there. Thank you for being you.

Richard Pelletier is a copywriter, photographer and all around CREATIVE.  You can read more of Richard on his blog, Five Cool Things or visit his website at Lucid Content.  Thank you again Richard for your guest post. 

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