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Forty years later, photographer reflects on missing the ‘napalm girl’ image

David Burnett — who was loading his camera when fellow photographer Nick Ut captured the famous “napalm girl” image in Vietnam in 1972 — reflects on missing that moment.
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David Burnett, then a 25-year-old photojournalist, captured this image of the aftermath of the napalm attack at Trang Bang in Vietnam in summer 1972. “It was real life, unfolding at the pace of life,” he writes. David Burnett / Contact Press Images

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A woman holds a child in this image by Burnett. “After Trang Bang, my sense of being ’photographer ready’ was more acute; the instinct has served me well in dozens of stories since,” Burnett writes. David Burnett / Contact Press Images

Children run in the aftermath of the attack in this image by Burnett. David Burnett / Contact Press Images

A Vietnamese woman carries her children and possessions on bamboo pole as she tries to escape fierce fighting in the Cholon suburb of Saigon during the Viet Cong Mini Tet offensive of the Vietnam War in May 1968 --- Image by © Nik Wheeler/Corbis

March for peace (Washington, D.C.): I won't fight in Vietnam (1965)

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US Army Captain Robert Bacon leading a patrol during the early years of the Vietnam War, by Larry Burrows 1964

Kim Phuc was pictured in a world-famous and iconic photograph from the Vietnam war, running naked from an airborne attack, horribly burned with napalm, in June of 1972. Since then, Kim has found peace, and a message she can offer, borne of her suffering. She runs The Kim Foundation International, and she acts as a Goodwill Ambassador for UNESCO. She has transformed into a viable, visible symbol of peace and hope. Hers is an important story of resilience, courage, and forgiveness.

Vietnam veteran watching the Chattanooga Armed Forces Day parade in 1976. This photograph won a Pulitzer Prize.