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Georgette Louise Meyer¬†(March 14, 1918 ‚Äď November 4, 1965)


✪ Dickey Chapelle, born Georgette Louise Meyer was an American photojournalist known for her work as a war correspondent photographer from World War II through the Vietnam War.

Chapelle was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on March 14, 1918 and attended Shorewood High School. By the age of sixteen, she was attending aeronautical design classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She soon returned home, where she worked at a local airfield, hoping to learn to pilot airplanes instead of designing them. However, when her mother learned that she was having an affair with one of the pilots, Chapelle was forced to go live with her grandparents in Coral Gables, Florida. There, she wrote press releases for an air show, which eventually led to an assignment in Havana, Cuba.

A fast-talking Midwesterner, young Dickey Chapelle took her nickname ‘Bird’ from her hero, Arctic explorer Admiral Richard Byrd and dreamed of being a pilot or an aerospace engineer. At age 14, she sold her first article to¬†U.S. Air Service Magazine, titled ‚ÄúWhy We Want to Fly.

‚ÄúBe sure you‚Äôre the first woman somewhere,‚ÄĚ an editor in New York once advised early in her career. A story on a Cuban air show disaster Chapelle submitted to the¬†New York Times¬†got her noticed by an editor at Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA), which prompted her to move to New York City. Working at the TWA publicity bureau, she began to take weekly photography classes with Tony Chapelle, whom she later married in October 1940. She eventually quit her job at TWA to compile a portfolio which she sold to¬†Look¬†magazine in 1941.¬†In April 1941, she was hired by Lear Avia to handle press liaison work for their New York office.

The Chapelles began doing stories for National Geographic magazine in the 1950s, but Tony suffered two heart attacks during their 15 years of marriage; and, as he later explained to his editor, sought a more sedentary lifestyle. When they worked together, Dickey originally did the writing and Tony took the photographs. After fifteen years of marriage, she divorced Tony and changed her first name to Dickey. After they separated, Dickey took on both roles of writing & photography in Vietnam.

Despite having limited photographic credentials Chapelle managed to become a war correspondent photojournalist during World War II for National Geographic with one of her first assignments posted with the Marines during the battle of Iwo Jima.

In 1942, Chapelle became one of the first women correspondents accredited by the military in WWII‚ÄĒan accreditation she quickly lost after accompanying the Marines onto Okinawa Island in defiance of a ban on female correspondents going ashore in combat areas. By the end of the war, she‚Äôd already written nine books, most of them about women in aviation.

After the war, she traveled all around the world, often going to extraordinary lengths to cover a story in any war zone. During the¬†Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Chapelle was captured and jailed for over seven weeks. She later learned to jump with paratroopers and frequently travelled with troops. This led to frequent awards and earned her the respect of both the military and journalistic communities. Chapelle “was a tiny woman known for her refusal to kowtow to authority and her signature uniform:¬†fatigues, an Australian¬†bush hat, dramatic¬†Harlequin glasses and pearl earrings.”

Chapelle once wrote that the story she reported again and again was of ‚Äúmen brave enough to risk their lives in the defense of freedom against tyranny,‚ÄĚ and this frontline perspective made her a legend at a time when there were few female journalists in newsrooms and even fewer on battlefields. She was used to being a novelty in the offices of generals and within Marine units. Sometimes being underestimated worked to her favor: She sold a book on military training to her editor by performing the entire Army fitness test in his office.

However, Chapelle‚Äôs sex didn‚Äôt grant her any special treatment as a journalist. ‚ÄúNot once has a general ever offered to trade me a SECRET operations order for my fair white virtue, and if it sounds as if I‚Äôm complaining, I guess in a sense I sure am,‚ÄĚ she wrote to her publisher while writing her autobiography, first titled¬†The Trouble I‚Äôve Asked For¬†and later published as¬†What‚Äôs a Woman Doing Here?, titled after¬†the refrain she commonly heard on the battlefield.

In May 1962, Chapelle celebrated her 20th anniversary as a war correspondent by embedding with¬†the helicopter units waging an aerial battle over Vietnam. One evening, three separate Marines approached her to say that she‚Äôd photographed or interviewed their fathers in Iwo Jima and Okinawa two decades earlier. ‚ÄúWith a shock,‚ÄĚ she wrote, ‚ÄúI realized I was now covering my second generation of combat Marines‚ÄĒcovering them, again, on embattled ground half a world away from home.‚ÄĚ

That year, Dickey became the second woman awarded the George Polk Memorial Award, the highest award for bravery from the Overseas Press Club of America. She‚Äôd seen more fighting in Vietnam than any other American‚ÄĒ17 operations in all, the press release boasted, noting: ‚ÄúThe importance of the pictures she took in Vietnam lies in the fact that they were made where nobody goes‚ÄĒBEYOND the telegraph lines and jeepible roads.‚ÄĚ

The war in Vietnam had split American public sentiment, and each dispatch from Chapelle prompted a flood of emotional feedback to National Geographic‘s headquarters in Washington, D.C.. ‚ÄúFrom Geographic I expect information, not propaganda,‚ÄĚ wrote one reader after her story on the American airborne troops. However, nuns from the Holy Family Hospital in South Vietnam disagreed, describing it as ‚Äúone of the most realistic accounts of what is really happening over here that we have read.‚ÄĚ

Chapelle got tired of the slow and selective way¬†National Geographic¬†covered the war. In May 1965, she told editors she was frustrated to see two weeklies had scooped her on¬†a story about the naval wars¬†that she‚Äôd filed first. ‚ÄúAnyway I finally figured out something I could do about it,‚ÄĚ she wrote. ‚ÄúI just went to work for one of the weeklies.‚ÄĚ She was on assignment for the¬†National Observer‚ÄĒand¬†National Geographic¬†was still sitting on her story‚ÄĒwhen Chapelle died.

On November 4, 1965, Chapelle was covering the second day of Operation Black Ferret, a Marine search-and-destroy mission near the coastal city of Chu Lai. The Associated Press sent a photographer to follow her and the previous day she’d bet him that her unit would be fired on before his. She lost that bet but told him she’d win the next.

Chapelle was killed in Vietnam on that day while on patrol with a Marine platoon. The lieutenant in front of her kicked a tripwire boobytrap, consisting of a mortar shell with a hand grenade attached to the top of it. Chapelle was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel which severed her carotid artery She died on the floor of the helicopter evacuating her to the hospital. Her last moments were captured in a photograph by Henri Huet. Her body was repatriated with an honor guard consisting of six Marines, and she was given a full Marine burial.

When she died, there were no other female photographers covering the divisive and dangerous war in Vietnam. She became the first female war correspondent to be killed in Vietnam, as well as the first American female reporter to be killed in action.

Memorials were held by enlisted men and foreign correspondents in Saigon. The Marines gave her full military honors. (Just last fall, at the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association‚Äôs annual dinner, Chapelle was made an honorary Marine.) When the news reached Marine Corps headquarters in Washington, one major reported that ‚Äúeverything immediately came to a halt.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúShe ventured where angels and men twice her size and half her age feared to tread, not with any aura of bravado but simply because she felt that if a newspaper or radio chain hired her to cover a war, it deserved war coverage, not a rewrite of a headquarters mimeographed handout,‚ÄĚ fellow correspondent Bob Considine wrote in a tribute for the¬†Milwaukee Journal. ‚ÄúDickey was one heaven of a woman.‚ÄĚ

For a year after Chapelle’s death, there were no other female photographers working in Vietnam. In 1967, one general attempted to ban women from the frontlines, but it was already too late.

‚ÄúThere‚Äôs no question that war is no place for a woman,” Chapelle once told an interviewer. Then she added: ‚ÄúThere‚Äôs only one other species on earth for whom a war zone is no place, and that‚Äôs men. But as long as men continue to fight wars, why I think observers of both sexes will be sent to see what happens.‚ÄĚ

Despite early support for¬†Fidel Castro,¬†Chapelle became an outspoken anti-Communist, and loudly expressed these views at the beginning of the¬†Vietnam War. Her stories in the early 1960s extolled the American¬†military advisors¬†who were already fighting and dying in South Vietnam, and the Sea Swallows, the anticommunist militia led by Father¬†NguyŠĽÖn LŠļ°c Ho√°.

Chapelle is interred at the Forest Home Cemetery in Milwaukee. The Marine Corps League, in conjunction with the United States Marine Corps, continue to honor her memory by presenting the Dickey Chapelle Award annually to recognize women who have contributed most to the morale, welfare and well being of the men and women of the United States Marine Corps.✪