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Dickey Chapelle - Combat Photographer

Updated on October 3, 2013

Dickey Chapelle

Dickey Chapelle
Dickey Chapelle

Georgette Louise Meyer

I have a passion and great interest in black and white photographs. As I watched a documentary on photojournalist that covered the Vietnam War I became curious about the photos these photographers had taken. I was also struck about how many of the men and woman who did not make it home. One that struck me was well known photojournalist Dickey Chapelle. It wasn't the pictures she took that made me search her out and do some research, it was the photo of her as she receives her last rites. Pictures can speak volumes and this one definitely does. We carry images with us for years or maybe our entire lives and the photography that captured the image of Chapelle’s last moments would also die in Vietnam with other photojournalist covering the war.

Photojournalist Dickey Chapelle

Photojournalist Dickey Chapelle born Georgette Louise Meyer (March 14, 1919–November 4, 1965) became one of the first female war correspondents, covering World War II, the Korean conflict and Vietnam. At the age of 16 she earned a full scholarship to study aeronautical design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after graduating first in her class.

After having a few jobs in Florida, Chapelle landed a job with TWA in New York, where she enrolled in a photo class taught by TWA's publicity photographer. Here is where she met her future husband, Tony Chapelle. She soon began working as a photographer for TWA, which set her on the course of being a photojournalist. After 15 years of marriage, she divorced Tony and officially changed her name to Dickey after her favorite explorer Admiral Richard Byrd

War Correspondent

Dickey Chapelle became a war correspondent for National Geographic even though she lacked the experience. She would be posted with the Marines during World War II. Chapelle would soon be known as the correspondent who would do almost anything to get a story. With the Marine unit she was attached to gave her the opportunity to cover the battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima. After WWII she would travel to great lengths to cover a story. Chapelle covered the Hungarian Revolution, Cuba, and Algeria and would eventually be in Vietnam.

Chapelle would be jailed for seven weeks during the Hungarian Revolution. She learned to jump with paratroopers at age 40, and usually traveled with troops. This led to frequent awards, and earned the respect of both the military and journalistic community. Chapelle was a tiny woman but strong willed, known for wearing fatigues, an Australian bush hat, dramatic glasses, and pearl earrings. She became the first female reporter to win approval from the Pentagon to jump with American troops in Vietnam.

Dickey Chapelle

Photographer Henri Huet image of Chapelle receiving her last rites.  Huet would also die in Vietnam in 1971.
Photographer Henri Huet image of Chapelle receiving her last rites. Huet would also die in Vietnam in 1971.

The Vietnam War and the Tripwire

On the morning of November 4, 1965, Chapelle was killed by a land mine while on patrol with a platoon, near the Song Tra Bong River becoming the first war correspondent killed in Vietnam. The lieutenant in front of her kicked a tripwire, consisting of a mortar shell with a hand grenade attached to the top of it. The soldier, who tripped the wire, was not seriously injured. Chapelle was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel, which severed her carotid artery and died soon after. Dickey Chapelle was given full Marine burial.

Dickey Chapelle blazed a trail where no woman had gone before. She set herself apart from others as an award winning war correspondent.

On 4 November 1966, General Lewis Walt came to the village of Chu Lai, Vietnam to dedicate the Dickey Chapelle Memorial Dispensary. The plaque has this inscription:

To the memory of Dickey Chapelle, War Correspondent, killed in action near here on 4 November 1965. She was one of us and we will miss her.

~In 1964 she received the Award for Gallantry in News Coverage from the Overseas Press Club (OPC),

~135 combat photographers lost their lives Vietnam and Indochina.



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    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      Thanks for that sad, but uplifting account of a great woman.