Though she eventually learned to forgive those behind the attack _ and the brutal conflict that spurred it _ Kim Phuc Phan Thi vowed she would never forget the terrible consequences of war.
That she survived the raid was "an accident of history," she said on the 40th anniversary of the photo that made her famous.
"A moment captured on film turned one child's atrocity into a story of hope and survival," she told friends and relatives gathered in Toronto on Friday to mark the occasion.
"But I'll never forget my two cousins who were killed in that napalm fire and I'll never forget the millions of innocent victims who live their lives with the daily threat of violence and war," she said.
Kim Phuc was only nine years old when she was photographed fleeing a napalm strike on her village in South Vietnam on June 8, 1972.
The image of her running naked down a road captured worldwide attention and later won a Pulitzer Prize.
Recovering from the physical and emotional wounds she suffered took years, Kim Phuc said, thanking the journalists, nurses, doctors and loved ones who came to her aid in the decades since the bombing.
"In order to be really free, I had to learn to forgive," she said in an emotional speech punctuated by tears.
"It was the hardest work of my life, but I did it."
The woman who garnered worldwide fame said there was a time that she "wanted to hide from that photograph," which the Vietnamese government long used against her.
But she grew to embrace the spotlight as a tool to improve the world around her, particularly children in volatile situations like the one she escaped.
Kim Phuc and her husband came to Canada in 1992 and now live in the Toronto area.
Five years after landing in her adoptive country, she founded the Kim Foundation International, which provides free medical assistance to children who are victims of war and terrorism.
She is also a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO.