Memory in the trees

Publish date 07-09-2023

by Redazione Sermig

Phan Thi Kim Phúc is the Vietnamese little girl who ran, naked, frightened towards the lens of Nick Hut who portrayed her in the famous Napalm Girl, a photo which, in addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize for the Associated Press photographer, helped to disseminate in the public opinion the cruelties of which Vietnamese civilians were mainly victims.

At that time I was 5 years old. Several years later, passing through Ho Chi Minh City (ex Saigon), I wanted to find the exact place where that famous photograph was taken. Unfortunately that place was no longer traceable. Surely it must have been somewhere along that dusty and busy road that I traveled kneeling on the back of a pick-up (to try to imagine what I didn't experience) until I reached Trang Bäng, Tay Ninh province, Vietnam, where recent buildings , industrial architecture and lines of fruit vendors line every street without interruption.

Returning to the city, I stopped at the Cu Chi tunnels, a network of 250 km long underground tunnels dug by hand by the Vietcong and located on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, in the middle of a tropical jungle. A young girl, who carried out the reception service as a volunteer, spoke to me with pride of the Vietcong troops who were based in that territory, and who fought with cunning and means of luck the famous war that saw them opposed to the American ones.

Proudly wearing her father's signature green military cap and her mother's famous checkered scarf, she told me that both had been militant rebels. Vietcong, charred dead in that same forest during a napalm rain. The orphan girl, whom I photographed with one hand resting on a tree trunk, was spared by a miracle, but I believe she suffered no less than Kim Phúc. Her memory continues to survive and to be told precisely by her roots spared by her, just as happened to her and to her caressed tree.

Luca Periotto

NP Giugno-Luglio 2023

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