Without question the greatest honor a journalist can receive is a Pulitzer Prize. Uttered in hushed tones of reverence, there is a mythic quality surrounding the prestigious award and its recipients.
Joseph Pulitzer established the prizes that bear his name as a provision of his will. The first Pulitzer Prizes were awarded in 1917. Awarded annually, the Pulitzer Prizes honor excellence in journalism, photography, literature, history, poetry, music and drama.
Originally, Pulitzer specified the awarding of 14 awards. Today, a total of 21 prizes are presented.
Born in Hungary, Pulitzer came to the United States in 1864 when he was 17-years-old. Due to his strong reporting skills, Pulitzer was considered the ideal representation of American journalism. He would become the publisher of both the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the New York World.
Pulitzer was also actively involved in politics. He briefly served in the Missouri House of Representatives and 15 years later was elected to serve New York as a member of the United States House of Representatives.
I will be perfectly honest. Even in my wildest of wild dreams, I have never considered the possibility of winning a Pulitzer Prize. In fact, I considered the likelihood of ever meeting one of those remarkable journalists just as implausible.
However, that idea changed last week when I had the honor and privilege of interviewing Nick Ut. A photographer with the Associated Press for more 51 years, Ut began his career by spending 10 years covering the Vietnam War.
In 1973, Ut was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in spot news photography for his picture of 9-year-old Kim Phuc fleeing her village during a napalm attack. As Ut explained to me during our interview, the napalm burnt the clothes, and horrifically the skin beneath, off her young body.
However, the significance of this story extends well beyond a split second captured on a roll of film. For as soon as he took the photo, Ut put his camera away and rushed to help the girl.
Ut rushed the girl, and many other children injured in the bombing, to the nearest hospital. I then listened in disbelief as Ut said the doctor and nurse at the hospital initially refused to treat Kim and told him to take her to Saigon. Knowing she would never survive the trip to Saigon, Ut raised his Associated Press credentials and demanded they care for the girl or he would expose their refusal to the world.
I had chills and could not help but shudder as the reality of his words sank in for me. I marveled at the courage and determination Ut -- who was only 21-years-old at the time -- showed in the face of a true life or death situation.
During my career I have met some exceptional people and tried to do my small part to share their remarkable stories with our readers. Although our paths only crossed for one hour, that opportunity was certainly one of the highlights of my career.
Following my interview with Ut, my mind kept going back to the fact this man stood firmly on the front lines of the battlefield for 10 years. I was only a young child when the Vietnam War came to an end. Although the images captured by Ut and other wartime correspondents showed the atrocity of war, I still had an innocent detachment from those horrific events because I had not witnessed them firsthand.
However, like many Americans, I had that sense of innocence shattered on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, as the events of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon unfolded before our disbelieving eyes.
Keeping our vow to never forget, we commemorated the 20th Anniversary of that fateful day last Saturday. How could it be 20 years already?
I watched some of the television coverage of the memorials and listened to the reading of the names of those lost during the attacks. By the time coverage ended I was sad and uneasy, just as I had been 20 years earlier.
Later that day I watched some of the documentaries that were produced in the years following the attacks. Hearing the accounts of family members who lost loved ones brought a tear to my eye.
Yet, there was a sense of hope as I was reminded of the sense resilience and resolve shown by Americans as the stood, united, as one nation. Hopefully, that is another aspect of that day we will never forget.