A Day with Dickey Chapelle
[Re. “Images of Combat the Hard Way,” July:] Seeing the graphic photo of Dickey Chapelle, taken shortly after she [was mortally wounded by] a booby trap, recalled a memory of the day she spent with our squad—and the difference between real war and “play war.”
It was either 1955 or ’56, and Dickey came to Marine Corps Test Unit No. 1 at Camp Pendleton to shoot photos of the “new Marine Corps” for some kind of a story she was doing. We had been up to Nevada, participated in an A-bomb test, and had been messing around for months with helicopters doing “vertical envelopment.” Pretty primitive, since the helicopter held only a four-man fire team, and the fire team leader reached up to tap the leg of the pilot to signal we were ready for takeoff.
During the day Dickey spent with our squad, we played at war—running up hills, attacking enemy positions. At one point our entire squad would have been wiped out, as one of our guys screwed up by giving away our position when we were setting an ambush on a road. Dickey was there, shooting pictures of everything we did, making us feel like real Marines. She even hung out with us in the rec room that evening, getting our personal stories—our hometowns, all that sort of thing. Dickey went away, and we never saw the story in print. Dickey knew what real war was, and I doubt our new Marine Corps measured up to her experiences and combat photos of World War II and Korea. The photo of Dickey, taken in death, showed real war. Although we didn’t know her well, spending only a day with her, I suspect Dickey would have been proud of where she died—on the job, in combat, with guys she loved.
Thank you for sharing this wonderful interview of the last U.S. veteran of World War I, Frank Buckles [July]. I read an interview with him when he was about 105 and was amazed that he lived to be 110 years old. An institution this man was, the last of millions who served in World War I.
In World War II my father was an ambulance driver with the 99th Infantry Division. Called the “Battle Babies,” [the division] served from 1942–45 at the Battle of the Bulge and in the Siegfried Line campaign. He will be 90 years old this summer and was recently interviewed by a local TV station in his hometown of Lenoir, N.C., where he was born and raised. He is one of the oldest remaining World War II combat veterans, and he has stories similar to those of Frank Buckles.
These men saw unimaginable horrors. Millions were lost due to lack of equipment, transportation and medical care. My father traveled on nearly impassable roads in freezing temperatures to bring wounded from the battlefield to the medical stations; sometimes the men would get patched up and go right back to battle. Wounded Nazis were treated with the same humanity as Allied forces. The heroes of the world wars are humble men of few words who suffered freezing weather conditions with little or no heat, ate from cold cans with pocket knives, bathed with cold water from their helmets and fought in horrific, bloody battles.
Your recent article [“The Best Medicine,” by Richard A. Gabriel, July] about ancient Roman military medicine shows, on P. 37, a capsarius (“bandager”) removing a fragment of metal from a Roman soldier’s thigh. Although the caption refers to the object as “debris,” this painting is well known in archaeology as showing the removal of a tri-bladed projectile, as can be verified by looking at the painting reproduction with magnification. Although usually identified as an arrowhead, this projectile point is too big, so it must be the tip end of a ballista dart. The shallow penetration of the dart implies that a deflected dart must have hit this militant. The small amount of blood and the relative ease of the removal of the dart head with ostagra tongs reveal how shallow was the dart penetration.
Readers of this article and Military History will be interested to learn that at the Celtic hill fort of the Titelberg in southwestern Luxembourg, the Foundation House—the tribal chieftain’s coin mint foundry after the Roman conquest—was converted in the 1st century into a hospital, where archaeologists recovered multiple examples of the 13 medical instruments listed in the article.
Ralph M. Rowlett
Professor Emeritus, Anthropology
University of Missouri
In your War Games section of the March issue (“An Army Divided”) I saw a familiar division patch—the 35th Infantry Division. Because my grandfather served in the 35th ID in World War II, from Normandy (D-Day +30) to the Rhine, I purposely joined the Illinois Army National Guard’s 1st Battalion, 178th Infantry Regiment, in 2003 to proudly wear the same Santa Fe wagon wheel. I was dismayed, however, to see in your magazine that the spokes of the wagon wheel were tilted to the shape of an “x” instead of the correct position “+.” So, in honor of President Harry S. Truman (World War I 35th ID), my grandpa, my grandma (his loving wife, who was shocked to notice the same tilting error of the 35th divisional patch in a museum in Normandy) and to all the 35th ID veterans, I could not sit idle while our proud divisional patch was being crookedly displayed.
Editor’s note: Kudos to you for defending the 35th Infantry! We repent of our crooked ways.
In your November issue I found the story of “La Fière Causeway, Normandy” [Hallowed Ground, by David T. Zabecki]. My brother, Ralph Fields, was killed there on June 7, 1944. He was in the 1st Battalion, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment.
I talked to several men from our village who served with Ralph. They saw him killed as he started on patrol around the marsh. I never pushed for more answers. Until reading about the battle in Military History, I had no idea where it took place. I thank you for the description of the battle and how important it was. I’m sorry for the loss of so many lives.