Napalm girl photographer Nick Ut retires

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Nick Ut, the Associated Press photographer who took the iconic 'Napalm Girl' picture during the Vietnam War has announced his retirement after 51 years.

The Pulitzer Prize-winner, 65, said he travelled 'from Hell to Hollywood' during his astonishing career which took him from the frontline to the red carpet. Despite a long career as a photojournalist, his work is still defined by the image he took in 1972 aged just 21. He would later be credited with saving the life of nine-year-old Kim Phuc, after her village of Trang Bang was set ablaze with napalm.

Mr Ut had just finished photographing four planes flying low to drop the napalm that would set Kim's village ablaze when he saw a terrified group of men, women and children running for their lives from a pagoda.

After getting the photo, he set aside his camera, gave the badly burned girl water, poured more on her wounds, then loaded her and others into his AP van to take them to a hospital.

When doctors refused to admit her, saying she was too badly burned to be saved, he angrily flashed his press pass. The next day, he told them, pictures of her would be displayed all over the world, along with an explanation of how the hospital refused to help. 

Now a 53-year-old wife and mother-of-two who lives in Canada, Ms Phuc remains Mr Ut's close friend.

'That picture changed my life. It changed Kim's life,' he said.

'I cried when I saw her running,' Ut once said. 'If I don't help her - if something happened and she died - I think I'd kill myself after that.'

The photo of the terrified child running naked down a country road, her body literally burning from the napalm bombs dropped on her village, has become a symbol of the horrors committed during the Vietnam War.

The 11th of 12 children, he grew up idolizing one of his older brothers, Huynh Thanh My. Huynh was hired by the AP and was on assignment in 1965 when he and a group of soldiers he was with were overrun by Viet Cong rebels and was killed.

At his brother's funeral, Mr Ut approached the late Horst Faas, photo editor for AP's Saigon bureau, to ask for a job. But Faas turned him down. He didn't want the Huynh family losing another son.

After weeks of Mr Ut's pestering, Faas finally relented, hiring him in 1966, but giving the 15-year-old strict orders: Under no circumstances was he to carry his camera into a war zone.

So he spent the next couple of years working in the darkroom and shooting feature photos around Saigon until one January morning in 1968 when the war came to him.

'I remember Nick coming in later that morning very excited and saying, "The Viet Cong are fighting near my house. I have pictures of Vietnamese troops attacking them, great pictures,"' Arnett, who worked for the AP then, recalled in a recent interview.

From that day forward, 17-year-old Mr Ut was a combat photographer.

Over the coming years he would be wounded four times and have a rocket come so close to his head that it literally parted his hair. His closest friend in the Saigon bureau, noted photographer Henri Huet, died in 1971 after volunteering to take the weary Mr Ut's place on an assignment during which the helicopter he was in was shot down.

It was Huet, Mr Ut says, who gave him his nickname, Nick, after others in the bureau had trouble getting his given name - Huynh Cong Ut - right.

'That's why I keep the name Nick Ut. In Henri's honor,' he said.

When Saigon fell to the rebels in 1975, two years after the U.S. military pulled out, Mr Ut had to flee Vietnam like thousands of others. After a brief stay in a California refugee camp, the AP put him to work in its Tokyo bureau.

He would go on to take literally tens of thousands more over the next 44 years, including images of practically every A-list celebrity who walked a Hollywood red carpet or entered a courtroom on the wrong side of the law.

'Every star who has trouble, they will see me,' he joked.

He plans to spend retirement helping take care of those grandchildren and taking more pictures.

'I'll take pictures until I die,' he said. 'My camera is like my doctor, my medicine."

via Associated Press

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