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THE MYTH AND THE TRUTH OF "TRANG BANG INCIDENT"

      By chance, you might read a report or a story on American main stream media that asserted that Kim Phuc, the little nine year old Vietnamese girl running naked from the napalm strike near Trang Bang on 8 June 1972, was burned by Americans bombing Trang Bang.

Unfortunately the public never realized that no American had involvement in this incident near Trang Bang that burned Phan Thi Kim Phuc. The planes doing the bombing near the village were VNAF ( South Vietnam Air Force) and were being flown by Vietnamese pilots in support of ARVN troops on the ground.

The Vietnamese pilot who dropped the napalm in error is currently living in the United States. Even the AP photographer, Nick Ut, who took the picture was Vietnamese. The incident in the photo took place on the second day of a three day battle between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) who occupied the village of Trang Bang and the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) who were trying to force the NVA out of the village.

The reports in the news media that an American commander ordered the air strike that burned Kim Phuc are incorrect. There were no Americans involved in any capacity. "We (Americans) had nothing to do with controlling VNAF," according to Lieutenant General (Ret) James F. Hollingsworth, the Commanding General of TRAC at that time. Also, it has been incorrectly reported that two of Kim Phuc's brothers were killed in this incident. They were Kim's cousins not her brothers. A different detail report is presented as follow.

This is also a Tribute to Ret. Major Ron Timberlake. He was a great warrior, and defender of the truth. In his unwaining search for the truth, he has contributed to dispelling the MYTH about the Bombing of Trang Bang.

His untimely death has been a real loss not only for his family but also the Vietnam Veteran community. He has lead the way in dispelling the myths of the war. One such myth is listed below.

In Honor of Ron Timberlake, may the truth be our light!

The Myth Of The Girl In The Photo

by Ronald N. Timberlake © January 1998

Major Ron Timberlake

     What do you think when you see the photo of the naked and terrified little Vietnamese girl, running toward the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer? This heart-wrenching photo has been published with a heart-wrenching story, but if a picture speaks a thousand words, most of the words associated with this photo are false. Most articles say or imply that Americans bombed Trang Bang, and burned Kim Phuc, the girl in the famous photo. As clearly shown on film, and confirmed by Nick Ut, the photographer himself, the Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) dropped the bombs. Noted correspondent Peter Arnett reported that in the 10 June 1972 edition of Stars & Stripes.

Articles typically say that bombers attacked the village of Trang Bang, but the fighters were striking outside the village, hitting fortifications of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) troops who were attacking the village. The village itself was not the VNAF target.

The myth says Kim and her family were hurt when the Buddhist pagoda in which they took refuge was bombed, taking a direct hit. The pagoda was not targeted or hit. Kim has stated they left the pagoda to run along the road, when they were hit.

Eyewitness UPI television correspondent Christopher Wain, reported that when Kim and the others, including ARVN soldiers, ran away from the village, the pilot of a Vietnamese fighter spotted them running toward the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) positions. This was where the journalists and photographers were located, and they watched the Vietnamese pilot divert from his target to attack the group.

It is often said that Kim's brothers died from the bombs that injured her, but the victims were her cousins, and these same bombs that burned Kim, also killed ARVN soldiers. However tragic, only a single bombing run of many during those three days was involved in the accidental bombing.

It is popular to say this photo stopped the war, but while it is an icon for the peace movement, by the time of the photo in June of 1972, almost all US ground forces had already left Vietnam. By March of 1973, all US combat forces were out of Vietnam.

The photo was embarrassing to the US government, but perhaps fatal to the South Vietnamese government. It was a marvelous propaganda tool, and may have done more than any other photo to prevent the US Congress from allowing assistance to the South Vietnamese government when North Vietnam launched its full scale invasion of that country, in 1975. The photo helped only the Communists, and is still useful for that.

Trang Bang was an all-Vietnamese fight. ARVN troops were fighting the invading North Vietnamese, and requested support from their own air force. Vietnamese were fighting Vietnamese when Kim was burned, and it was they who called for help from Vietnamese aircraft. Even the photographer was Vietnamese, although he is now a US citizen.

Trang Bang Truth

WHY DOES THE MYTH CONTINUE?

Because it is a dramatic photo, but for more than any other reason, because the handlers of the woman whom the little girl has become, arranged for her to go to the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial on Veteran's Day of 1996, "to forgive".

Did she know the pilot who bombed her was one of her own countrymen, and not an American? Yes, she did. Does Kim herself say that the pilot was American? She does not have to.

She was introduced on Veterans Day by Jan Scruggs, the impetus behind the Memorial, as having been burned in "an American ordered air strike". If you listen to her words, she is careful not to say the pilot was American, but most people assume that since she went to our nation's capitol to forgive him, the pilot must be American. While she herself never says that Americans bombed her, she is careful not to correct impressions given by introductions, or narration during the documentaries, or previous interviews and broadcasts. The audience is encouraged to assume her injuries are from American action. Even so, her trip of forgiveness to the Wall would have been a one-time story, if not for a man who managed to insert himself into the tragedy.

The myth of American involvement in the accidental bombing was strengthened by media revelations about "the American commander who ordered the bombing".The story of the Methodist minister who tearfully passed the message, "I am that man.", certainly encourages The Myth Of The Girl In The Photo. With his claim of being the man who ordered the strike, his subsequent self-admitted Godlessness and guilt, and his salvation to become a minister of the Methodist Church, he has almost replaced Kim as the central figure in the myth. It would seem that it is not for lack of trying on his part.

The Methodist minister who came forward to accept Kim Phuc's forgiveness at the Wall on Veterans Day 1996, was a low level staff officer on a staff of US Army advisors, an assignment without authority even to directly coordinate actions with VNAF, much less command, order, or direct any activity.

During the battle, he was in a bunker in a secure area more than 80 kilometers from the fighting. His own Commanding General, and the Operations Officer of his unit, are specific about his limitations. They recently clarified that he had no authority, capacity, or capability to order any Vietnamese aircraft to do anything, and say it would not have been possible for him to do what he has claimed, or to interfere with the VNAF.

No one on the US staff could order the VNAF to take any action whatever. The Commanding General has stated that even for himself to coordinate with VNAF, he had to go through General Minh, of the ARVN. The minor staff-officer-turned-preacher could have been involved in nothing more than the most superficial manner, if at all.

On investigation by the Baltimore Sun in December of 1997, the reverend changed his story to say he did not command or order, but he continues to insist that he coordinated the strike. Virtually every detail of his participation has been proven false and changed since his original version, but he wants to continue his "message of forgiveness" by changing the words 'ordered' and 'commander'. So he disputes the statements of his superiors, who retired with a total of five stars between the two of them.

Could an Army captain on an Army advisory staff have influenced a VNAF operation at that point in the war? The reverend's claim is shown to lack authenticity by the US Air Force CHEKO Report "Linebacker Operations". Linebacker 1 ran from 10 May 72 – 17 Dec 72. Page 20, Command, Control, and Communications:

"The USAF criticized itself for not correcting an in-grown 'parallel system', one in which U.S. Forces were off on their own conducting the war and another in which the VNAF was doing essentially the same thing on its own– The parallel system continued to the end of Linebacker II."

His "feel good" message of peace and forgiveness, however false, plays well to the American willingness to forgive and forget, and it justifies and soothes the collective conscience of those who were against American involvement in the war. But it dishonors American veterans. He has climbed to notoriety on the bones of our dead brothers.

It appears to be a politically sound strategy for Ms. Kim Phuc, resulting in an appointment as ambassador of goodwill for UNESCO, and the formation of a foundation in the United States, to solicit money in the name of this new Canadian citizen.

One might question, before sending a check of gratitude for this forgiveness. Ms. Kim's statements sound lovely, but while she is free to insinuate anything she pleases about the countries which give her refuge and support, she does not criticize the Communist government of her former homeland. Since the Communists have even allowed this "defector's" parents to make an "extended visit" to live with her in Canada, they seem content with The Myth.

So those who introduce Ms. Kim and the Kim Foundation cannot place blame for the misplaced bombs on the Communists, who assaulted the village and used civilians for cover. The words of the man who took her famous photo – that if the Communists had stayed in the north, none of this would have happened – will not be seen in a documentary about Kim.

It is imprudent to direct forgiveness to the government of South Vietnam, whose forces conducted the battle to defend the village against the attacking Communists, because that government no longer exists, and cannot show gratitude for it.

Only the people of the Western democracies, and the USA most of all, are in a position to feel sufficient gratitude for this "forgiveness", because of public perceptions of the myth surrounding this story, to respond with their donations and support. According to the producers of one documentary, A&E, the donations flow in each time the story is aired.

Why would those in charge of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial choose to have Kim come to the memorial on a day that should be set aside to honor American veterans? How could this myth, especially as presented, reflect well on veterans or our country? Was this really intended to honor veterans, or was the entire presentation simply a marketing tool?

Was the "forgiveness" intended to honor veterans, or advance the cause of certain interests, and elicit sympathy and guilt by making it seem that it was Americans responsible for her injuries?

How "spontaneous" was the meeting at The Wall between Kim Phuc and the Methodist minister, the two necessary ingredients in this recipe for "forgiveness" and heart-warming publicity? Was the meeting pre-planned?

Would some of these questions be answered if it turned out that some of the same people who have been associated with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, are associated with or actually a part of the Kim Foundation?

Follow the dollar, and the trail will lead to answers. Ms. Kim may still be a victim, but she is not being exploited by our country, or by honorable veterans.

Times have also improved for the Methodist minister. During the year since he came forward to share what he grasped as his responsibility for the agony of the little girl, this minister of a small country church has addressed more people than he had addressed in his entire life, prior to that day at The Wall. His public claims have given him a sort of celebrity status within the church, and he is in demand as a speaker for his "ministry of forgiveness".

While maintaining he did not to want publicity, he and Kim chose to meet near the cameras and microphones of the media representatives there to record Kim's offer of forgiveness, to the country and the men who did NOT burn her. Only the Canadian documentary crew participated in the initial meeting of these two "victims", apparently in accordance with their contract with Kim. It was left to the mainstream media to seek out and "uncover" the story later.

The cooperation between the producers of the Canadian documentary, those in charge of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and a Methodist minister who seeks "no" publicity, has resulted in a myth of epic proportions. The story that they and the Reverend made from this, has caused pain to the Vietnamese poet who was the intermediary for the meeting, and for all of those who know the myth for what it is.

Personal guilt is borne sooner by some than others, and few can deny the right to feel whatever personal responsibility one might care to feel for having been even remotely involved with this incident. Personal responsibility, however, entails a personal forgiveness, and not a false and contrived public confession that implies that the Myth Of The Girl In The Photo is true.


Trang Bang Video

About the video clip of Trang Bang incident

Click on the left thumbnail pix,you can watch the video clip if your computer has QuickTime player. And if you haven't witnessed war violence, this video clip would be a shock! But keep in mind, at war the innocent civilians usually get caught between the fire lines (Don't forget to turn on your speaker volume).



Here is one of the reasons for the story that has been "promoted" at length

KIM PHUC AS A GOODWILL AMBASSADOR OF THE UNITED NATIONS AND THE PUBLICATION OF THE STORY OF HER LIFE

Kim Phuc has become an anti-war symbol in the West. Vietnam had used her as an anti-American symbol before her defection in 1992. She has no regrets.

Kim Phuc (her name means "Golden Happiness" ) had spent 14 months recovering from her wounds and underwent 17 transplants and other operations.

In November 1997 Kim Phuc was named by Director General Frederico Mayor a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) "for a culture of peace". The event took place during a plenary session of the UNESCO General Conference.

She also established the Kim Foundation (healing children of war) with offices in Ajax, Ontario, Canada and Chicago IL, financed by voluntary donations. "I want to give back in the same way that so many gave to my healing", she said at the UNESCO ceremony in Paris. "Yes, I forgive, but I don't forget in order to prevent the same thing from happening again."

Kim Phuc now aspires to learn French and has signed up for language courses in Montreal.

Her husband Bui Huy Toan occupies himself with helping people in Canada who have difficulties to communicate. The visit to London was his first to Europe since his marriage to Kim Phuc. When both are traveling Kim's parents take care of their two sons. They joined them in Canada in 1998.

In 1999 the book of Kim Phuc's life, "The Girl in the Picture: The Story of Kim Phuc, the Photographer and the Vietnam War" by Denise Chong was published by Viking, in the Penguin Publishing Group, Canada. Editions in the U.S.A. and Britain will follow in mid-2000. It is the story of the "napalm girl" as she struggles to reclaim her life.


Epilogue

Throughout the Vietnam war, there were uncounted military accidents caused by the allies forces and ARVN; and for convenience most of those mishaps were dumped and blamed on the ARVN. This incident amazingly has been claimed and promoted by some "special interests" for the two reasons:

a/ It plays well along "forgiveness" theme and "move on" agenda of the liberal left.
b/ It generates a lot of donations and big bucks (for many different involved organizations) by manipulating, soliciting, and appealing to general popular emotion.

We (the South Vietnam military personnel) knew the true story much better than anyone else. If you have personally involved in the above incident, please sit down and write your stories before it would be lost. You have missed the target then, but NO WAY at this time. We have lost the war, but certainly not our MINDS and MEMORIES.


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