Home' Greymouth Star : October 27th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Tuesday, October 27, 2015
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uLetters to the editor
1900 - After four years of work, the first
section of the New York subway is opened.
1927 - Criminals Squizzy Taylor and Snowy
Cutmore die in shootout at Carlton, Melbourne.
1938 - Du Pont announces a name for its new
synthetic yarn: nylon.
1978 - Egypt ’s President Anwar
Sadat and Israel’s Prime Minister
Menachem Begin are awarded Nobel
1990 - New Zealand’s voters oust
the Labour Party of Mike Moore
giving the National Party under
James Bolger the biggest election victory in
more than 50 years.
2000 - Stormy seas prevent divers from
entering the nuclear submarine Kursk a
day after naval officials reveal evidence that
more than 23 seamen had sur vived the initial
explosions that sank the vessel.
2013 - Lou Reed, leader of the Velvet
Underground, dies aged 71 of an ailment related
to a liver transplant.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
James Cook, British navigator-explorer
(1728-1779); Isaac Singer, US inventor and
manufacturer who developed the first practical
sewing machine (1811-1878); Theodore
Roosevelt, US president (1858-
1919); Dylan Thomas, Welsh
author-poet (1914-1953); John
Cleese, British actor-comedian
(1939-); Simon Le Bon, English
pop singer in D uran Duran (1958-);
Scott Weiland, US rock singer in
the Stone Temple Pilots (1967-);
Vanessa-Mae, British violinist (1978-); Kelly
Osbourne, UK celebrity (1984-).
“ Happiness is a way station between too
much and too little.” — Channing Pollock,
American author and dramatist (1880-1946).
“ I have told you these things, so that in Me
you may have peace. In this world you will have
trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the
world.” — ( John 16:33).
A rescue operation
police and public
and which went as smoothly as clockwork
late on Saturday afternoon, saved from almost
certain death five people who were the pilot
and passengers in a light plane which crashed
at the head of the Fox Glacier. All five people
were reported to be satisfactory this morning
after their ordeal which could have been
considerably worse but for the presence of
three Christchurch climbers close to the crash
scene on the glacier.
The six-seater Cessna owned by Mt Cook Air
Ser vices was flying over the glacier when it was
evidently caught in a vicious down-draft and a
wingtip caught the ice. Luckily it came down
close to the three climbers who rushed to the
rescue and dragged the pilot and passengers
on to the ice. They did what they could for
them and wrapped them in their own clothing
and sleeping bags.
A ski plane rescue was mounted from
Hokitika and in the gathering gloom the three
planes managed to take off and head back to
Hokitika where with car headlights providing
a “ beautiful little flare path”, they made the
Late yesterday afternoon, and almost at the
southernmost tip of West Coast roading, a
Greymouth man Mr Archibald James Barrett
died when his car overturned on a bend and
ended in a culvert four miles south of the
Mr Barrett, a bachelor, aged 37, lived at 29
High Street, but as was his usual practice had
been whitebaiting on the Arawata, which is 20
miles south of Haast.
uFood for thought
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n the photograph that made
Kim Phuc a living symbol of the
Vietnam War, her burns are not
visible — only her agony as she
runs wailing toward the camera,
her arms flung away from her
body, naked because she has ripped off her
More than 40 years later she can hide
the scars beneath long sleeves, but a single
tear down her otherwise radiant face
betrays the pain she has endured since
that errant napalm strike in 1972.
prospect she once thought possible only
in a life after death.
“So many years I thought that I have no
more scars, no more pain when I’m
in Heaven. But now — Heaven on earth
for me!” Phuc says upon her arrival
in Miami to see a dermatologist who
specialises in laser treatments for burn
Late last month, Phuc, 52, began a
series of laser treatments that her doctor,
Jill Waibel of the Miami Dermatology
and Laser Institute, says will smooth
and soften the pale, thick scar tissue that
ripples from her left hand up her arm, up
her neck to her hairline and down almost
all of her back.
Even more important to Phuc, Waibel
says the treatments also will relieve the
deep aches and pains that plague her to
With Phuc are her husband, Bui Huy
Toan, and another man who has been
part of her life since she was nine-years-
old: L os Angeles-based Associated Press
photojournalist Nick Ut.
“He’s the beginning and the end,” Phuc
says of the man she calls “Uncle Ut.”
‘’He took my picture and now he’ ll be
here with me with this new journey, new
It was Ut, now 65, who captured Phuc’s
agony on June 8, 1972, after the South
Vietnamese military accidentally dropped
napalm on civilians in Phuc’s village,
Trang Bang, outside Saigon.
Ut remembers the girl screaming in
Vietnamese, “Too hot! Too hot!” He put
her in the AP van where she crouched on
the floor, her burnt skin raw and peeling
off her body as she sobbed, “I think I’m
dying, too hot, too hot, I’m dying.”
He took her to a hospital. Only then did
he return to the Saigon bureau to file his
photographs, including the one of Phuc
on fire that would win the Pulitzer Prize.
Phuc suffered serious burns over a third
of her body; at that time, most people
who sustained such injuries over 10% of
their bodies died, Waibel says.
Napalm sticks like a jelly, so there was
no way for victims like Phuc to outrun the
heat, as they could in a regular fire. “ The
fire was stuck on her for a very long time,”
Waibel says, and destroyed her skin down
through the layer of collagen, leaving her
with scars almost four times as thick as
While she spent years doing painful
exercises to preserve her range of motion,
her left arm still does not extend as far as
her right arm, and her desire to learn how
to play the piano has been thwarted by
stiffness in her left hand. Tasks as simple
as carrying her purse on her left side are
“As a child, I loved to climb on the tree,
like a monkey,” picking the best guavas,
tossing them down to her friends, Phuc
says. “After I got burned, I never climbed
on the tree anymore and I never played
the game like before with my friends.
It ’s really difficult. I was really, really
Triggered by scarred ner ve endings that
misfire at random, her pain is especially
acute when the seasons change in Canada,
where Phuc defected with her husband in
the early 1990s. The couple live outside
Toronto, and they have two sons, aged 21
Phuc says her Christian faith brought
her physical and emotional peace “in the
midst of hatred, bitterness, pain, loss,
hopelessness,” when the pain seemed
“No operation, no medication, no doctor
can help to heal my heart. The only one
is a miracle, (that) God love me,” she says.
“I just wish one day I am free from pain.”
Ut thinks of Phuc as a daughter, and he
worried when, during their regular phone
calls, she described her pain. When he
travels now in Vietnam, he sees how the
war lingers in hospitals there, in children
born with defects attributed to Agent
Orange and in others like Phuc, who were
caught in napalm strikes. If their pain
continues, he wonders, how much hope is
there for Phuc?
Ut says he is worried about the
treatments. “Forty-three years later, how
is laser doing this? I hope the doctor can
help her. ... When she was 18 or 20, but
now she’s over 50! That ’s a long time.”
Waibel has been using lasers to treat
burn scars, including napalm scars, for
about a decade. Each treatment typically
costs $1500 to $2000, but Waibel
offered to donate her ser vices when
Phuc contacted her for a consultation.
Waibel’s father-in-law had heard Phuc
speak at a church several years ago, and he
approached her after hearing her describe
At the first treatment in Waibel’s office,
a scented candle lends a comforting air to
the procedure room, and Phuc’s husband
holds her hand in prayer.
Phuc tells Waibel her pain is “10 out of
10” — the worst of the worst.
The type of lasers being used on Phuc’s
scars originally were developed to smooth
out wrinkles around the eyes, Waibel says.
The lasers heat skin to the boiling point to
vaporise scar tissue. Once sedatives have
been administered and numbing cream
spread thickly over Phuc’s skin, Waibel
dons safety glasses and aims the laser.
Again and again, a red square appears on
Phuc’s skin, the laser fires with a beep and
a nurse aims a vacuum-like hose at the
area to catch the vapor.
The procedure creates microscopic holes
in the skin, which allows topical, collagen-
building medicines to be absorbed deep
through the layers of tissue.
Phuc to need up to seven treatments over
the next eight or nine months.
Wrapped in blankets, drowsy from
painkillers, her scarred skin a little red
from the procedure, Phuc made a little fist
pump. Compared to the other surgeries
and skin grafts when she was younger, the
lasers were easier to take.
“This was so light, just so easy,” she says.
A couple weeks later, home in Canada,
Phuc says her scars have reddened and
feel tight and itchy as they heal
— but she is eager to continue the
“Maybe it takes a year,” she says. “But I
am really excited — and thankful.”
— New Zealand Herald
PICTURES: New Zealand Herald
Nine-year-old Kim Phuc, centre, runs with her brothers and cousins after a South Vietnamese plane accidentally dropped its
flaming napalm on its own troops in 1972.
‘Napalm girl” — the hidden pain
Kim Phuc in 1996 looks at a photo of herself holding her
sleeping son, her back still bearing scars from the attack.
Dr Jill Waibel, left, applies a laser to the arm of Kim Phuc to
reduce the pain and appearance of her burn scars.
Phuc is surrounded by tv cameras in 1972.
The first thing that strikes you about
Diana Cowell is the almost uncanny
resemblance to her father. “Everybody
remarks on the similarity,” she laughs, when
I tell her. But she never saw it for herself,
in the flesh: Robert Cowell, abandoned her
when she was just four, dying alone in 2011.
His early years seem adventurous yet
conventional — a wartime Spitfire pilot
turned racing driver, Robert married Diana
Carpenter, a fellow engineering student
he had met at London University in 1941.
Their daughters Anne, now 73, and Diana,
71, followed. But when Robert walked out
on his seemingly happy family in 1948,
it was not for another woman, it was to
become one: Roberta Cowell, the first man
in Britain to undergo full medical and
surgical gender reassignment treatment.
In order for Roberta to re-register legally
as female on her birth certificate in 1951,
she underwent a secret, and highly illegal,
castration, which allowed her to present
herself as intersex. For this to be true, she
could never have fathered children: Roberta
denied their very existence, maintaining
they were born from his ex-wife’s affairs.
By the time Roberta sold her story to the
Picture Post in 1954, she had whitewashed
her daughters from her life.
Diana rarely spoke about this painful
double disownment, until invited to take
part in a new documentary, The Sex Change
Spitfire Ace, which has healed decades-old
hurts. “ It has been a rollercoaster ride. But a
truly cathartic experience to learn who my
father was, to lay the ghosts of the past, and
to understand why he could not fulfil the
role of a father.”
There were no goodbyes and no
explanations; he simply disappeared one
day. Robert had begun cross-dressing
during the marriage, but what initially
seemed like a lark soon caused serious
problems. Diana’s paternal grandfather,
Major-General Sir Ernest Cowell, paid
the divorce settlement and for the sisters to
go to boarding school while their mother
swiftly remarried. “Mum’s second husband,
Harry, was the nicest and kindest of men,
but for a long time I kept my distance from
him as I knew my real father would return
Diana was shielded from her father’s
new identity, until she discovered it in a
newspaper when she was 13. “ Then mum
told me everything, and I realised he was
never coming back. As an adult, I found
out that Roberta was living in Richmond,
and twice wrote to make contact, but never
had a reply. I did not even know she had
died until my son saw a brief notice in a
motoring magazine in 2013. I couldn’t stop
crying for this person I had never known
and who never wanted to have anything to
do with me.”
Roberta, always known as Betty, was
a close friend of mine for 25 years, until
we finally lost touch. When I moved to
Richmond in 1970, I was told about this
strange person who looked like Marilyn
Monroe from the neck up and a garage
mechanic from the neck down. Some time
later, I was with my son Tom, then two or
three, in the local Post Office, when I saw
somebody who had to be her. Up piped
Tom: “Mummy, is that a man or a lady?”
Unfazed, Betty invited me for a glass of
wine in her dilapidated room round the
corner, decorated with number plates,
flying helmets, steering wheels and old car
batteries. She had a bottle of Hirondelle
waiting, and a packet of Black Russian
cigarettes. Amusing, insightful, captivating,
generous and warmhearted Betty began
spending Christmases with us and before
long, made all her documents available to
me, so I could write a book.
She was not, as she had made out,
wrongly assigned at birth, but had
undergone an orchiectomy to remove both
testicles by a medical student, Michael
Dillon, who himself had the world’s first
sex change operation from female to male
after beginning life as Laura. Betty never
mentioned that she had daughters of about
my own age. Out of her witty one-liners,
so many stand out. I once remarked that
her garden was a disgrace, chock-full of
brambles and nettles. “I know,” she said,
“ but then I’m not horticultural. Haughty,
yes, cultural, yes, horticultural, no.”
Diana says: “I finally feel I ... have learnt
what an intelligent, brave, sensitive and
humorous person Roberta was. I wanted to
get to know Betty so much. I’m sure that if
I had, I would have liked her.”
— New Zealand Herald
Roberta in 1962.
Spitfire ace who became a woman
Robert Cowell in 1947.
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