Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action
By John Garofolo. 153 pages.
Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2015. $25.
Reviewed by MHQ
In the foreword to this biography, war correspondent Jackie Spinner writes that when Dickey Chapelle was killed by a Viet Cong landmine in 1965, marines in Vietnam wrote on a marker, “She was one of us.” Throughout the rest of the book, writer John Garofolo builds a portrait of Chapelle’s fighting spirit, from her Wisconsin girlhood to Vietnam.
At 16 Chapelle won a full scholarship to MIT in aeronautical engineering but flunked out after two years. She eventually went on to a career as a reporter and photographer. When her husband, Tony, joined the navy after Pearl Harbor, Chapelle got military press credentials, based on her experience. She covered Okinawa and Iwo Jima, then postwar reconstruction, Hungarian refugees (she was imprisoned for that), and major conflicts of the mid-20th century. She was 47 when she died in Vietnam.
Garofolo’s narrative recounts instances of Chapelle’s iconoclasm, her love of adventure, and her fearlessness. She not only put her life on the line but frequently paved the way for women to move into areas they had not gone before. “I grew up in the heartland of the United States,” Chapelle said several years before she died. “I believed I could do anything I really wanted to do….Nowhere else in the world can a woman of seventeen or an old lady in her forties as I am, say ‘I can do anything I want to do.’”
At the heart of the book are some 130 photographs, a few of Chapelle but most taken by her. Her World War II images focus mainly on logistical support or the aftermath of battle rather than on the fighting itself. Another chapter documents postwar survivors in Europe and the Middle East and the relief work done for them by nonprofits, most notably the American Friends Service Committee. The chapter “Bayonet Borders” covers conflicts in Hungary, Lebanon, Cuba, and elsewhere. The final chapter—and the most compelling—is devoted to Vietnam (above), where Chapelle, then in her mid-40s, was in the thick of the war. MHQ
Read an excerpt from Chapelle’s memoir, What’s a Woman Doing Here?, in MHQ’s Experience department, Spring 2016.
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2016 issue (Vol. 29, No. 1) of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Reviews: Dickey Chapelle Under Fire.
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