One of the most horrifying images from the Vietnam War is the picture of a naked 9-year-old girl running down the street in terror after her village had been accidentally struck by napalm.
Twenty years after the war's end, plans are being made to dispose of the last vestiges of the U.S. government's supply of the sinister weapon.More than 35,000 canisters filled with 23 million pounds of napalm are soon to be removed from the Fallbrook Naval Weapons Station, where they've sat in wooden crates on a rocky field for two decades.
Three past attempts to remove the napalm has failed for reasons ranging from lack of money to interagency and intergovernmental squabbling over regulations.
"This time we think we have a better handle on it," said Richard Williamson, spokesman for the Naval Ordnance Center, Pacific Division in Seal Beach.
The Navy plans to pay a company to extract the napalm from the aluminum canisters and send it by rail across the country for use as fuel in high-temperature kilns at cement plants. The process could take up to five years and cost more than $24 million, Williamson said.
Officials from the weapons station plan a public hearing next month to explain the plan to Fall-brook residents.
Napalm is a mixture of benzene, gasoline and polystyrene plastic that turns into a flaming liquid when ignited by white phosphorus. Its use during the Vietnam War stirred passionate debate.
In 1972 and 1974, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolutions condemning the use of napalm and other incendiary devices. The United States abstained, along with the Soviet Union, which had supplied napalm to North Vietnam.
Dropped as bombs from aircraft and used in flame throwers, napalm came to define the sides in arguments over the Vietnam War.
Today, the United States has eliminated napalm from its arsenal.