Dickey Chapelle

Dickey Chapelle: 1919-1965

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“That was the goddamndest thing I ever saw anybody do in my life! Do you realize – all the artillery and half the snipers on both sides of this f**king war had ten full minutes to make up their mind about you?” the furious lieutenant screamed at Dickey Chapelle.

Chapelle had just finished taking a series of photographs
from the top of a ridge at the frontline on the island of Iwo Jima.

Her actual assignment was to photograph the use of whole blood and the activities of nurses onboard the USS Samaritan, the hospital ship her assignment confined her to. But Chapelle was determined to use her “woman’s angle” assignment to fulfill her professional dream – photographing combat from the frontlines. Despite repeatedly being told she was not to leave the ship, she persisted in asking to go ashore and finally convinced a press officer that the logical conclusion to her blood story was to go to a field hospital – well behind the front lines. Once she was ashore, she convinced the lieutenant to take her to the frontlines.

Instead of what she had imagined to be the frontline, she finds a windswept sand dune. Realizing the photos of hills of sand would not be very impressive, she nevertheless makes a serious study of what she has been told is the frontline by taking photographs of each quadrant surrounding her, all the while swatting at the wasps buzzing her.

After being returning to the safety of her tent, Chapelle’s bunkmate laughs at her description of swatting the wasps. “Those weren’t wasps. Those were sniper bullets. Iwo Jima is a volcanic island. There are no insects.”

Chapelle, immediately thrilled, writes her report with the byline “Under Fire on Iwo Jima”.

Her humorous self-deprecating autobiography, What’s a Woman Doing Here? A Combat Reporter’s Report on Herself, describes her trial by fire to become a war correspondent.

“Why did Dickey Chapelle want to Report War?” — Joyce Hoffmann, author of On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam

Dickey Chapelle came from a new generation of women, more ambitious and less self-effacing than those that came before her. Attracted to adventure and risk since childhood, her career as a photographer was driven by the classic war correspondent’s fascination with combat. She observed or ignored restrictions when necessary in her single-minded pursuit to cover war from the frontlines, using her assignments from women’s magazines as a vehicle for her own ambition.

Born Georgette Louise Meyer in 1919, she grew up in a well-protected middle-class environment in Shorewood, a suburb of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Despite the conventional environment surrounding her, she was determined to live by her own rules.

Like many of her generation she was captivated by aeronautics. At age 14, she wrote an article “Why We Want to Fly” for the United States Air Service magazine. The editor published it believing it was written by a boy named G.L. Meyer.  A year later, after meeting Admiral Richard Byrd — Dickey Byrd – when he spoke at her highschool, she changed her name to Dickey.

An excellent student, she graduated highschool early and at age 16 she was one of only three women admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to study engineering. But she spent more time at the local airfields hitching rides in planes than studying. She wrote articles about flying and took photographs from the planes. She dropped out of MIT and made her way to New York, where she studied photography, married her photography teacher, Tony Chapelle – a former WWI Navy photographer, and began pursuing a career as a reporter and photographer.

Her career as a war reporter spanned nearly three decades. She received awards from the Women’s National Press Club and the Overseas Press Club. In 1962 when her autobiography What’s a Woman Doing Here? was published, she was interviewed by a young Mike Wallace on his radio show. He questioned whether jumping out of planes, being at the front, or going on assignment with Marines was a “woman’s place”, indeed, was it a “woman’s job”? to which she responded:

“It is not a woman’s place. There’s no question about it. There’s only one other species on earth for whom a war zone is no place, and that’s men. But as long as men continue to fight wars, why I think observers of both sexes will be sent to see what happens.”

Chapelle was killed in 1965 while on assignment with the Marines in Viet Nam when a piece of shrapnel from a trap hit her in the throat. Photographer Henri Huet was on assignment with her and photographed her receiving her last rites. She was the first American woman reporter to be killed while on assignment. An award is given by the Marines every year in her honor.

Actor Dorothea Harahan on portraying Dickey Chapelle in “No Job For a Woman”

Actor Dorothea Harahan: “Portraying Dickey Chapelle is the role of a lifetime.”

Dorothea Harahan portrays Dickey Chapelle


Women reporters during WWII were told war reporting was No Job For a Woman. Buy the DVD, available for purchase from Women Make Movies, to find out how these women over came the restrictions and created a new way of telling the story of war.
2011, 61 minutes, Color, DVD, English

Click here to purchase a copy of the film

7 Responses to “Dickey Chapelle” Subscribe

  1. Jeff fields December 22, 2013 at 3:01 pm #

    I remember her …… I was on that operation and as I recall it was the first women we had seen in that situation. We were in a prone position and some one yelled out to “watch our language” there was a women in our presence. As I recall she had freckles and dark rimmed glasses and this little camera with her. I was with Mike 3/7 and all of us just stared at her…..

  2. Bernie Marvin January 3, 2015 at 9:51 am #

    I served with Leatherneck Magazine and the 2d Marine division during the invasion of Lebanon and met Dickey on a couple of patrols we ran out of Beirut. She was a very interesting woman and I remember her well. She was quite salty and several of the higher brass I served with knew her from both Iwo Jima and Okinawa during WW2.

    When I first ducked into a doorway to avoid sniper fire, she was there ahead of me and I actually remember her small pearl ear rings, the Leica, her USMC utilities and the KBar.
    Every Marine carried a KBar, (the fighting knife) and I admit I was a bit confused when I saw her there, crouched down.

    Later, we chatted on several occasions and on my wall of Marine Corps memorabilia at my home here in New Hampshire, I have a photo of Dickey and I standing together on a Beirut hillside.

    She visited the magazine in May of 1969 in Arlington, Virginia and told us all about her exploits with a guy named Fidel Castro, his brother, Raul and some fellow in a beret, Ernesto Che Guerverra. She told a wonderfully full story of her exploits with the Cuban revolutionary entrance into Havana in January, 1959.
    I was saddened, as were all Marines, to know she was KIA in 1965 in VN.
    A good person and quite tough. None of it was easy, especially for a woman.

    Bernie Marvin
    Piermont, NH 03779

    • mimifi March 12, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

      Hi Bernie,
      This is fantastic! I get so many inquiries about Dickey. She continues to fascinate people. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am certain others will be thrilled to read that you met her. All the best,

  3. Bob February 21, 2015 at 11:24 pm #

    It would be interesting if you could share more about that day. Did you meet her? Do you remember getting word that she had been killed?

  4. William H Darrow February 15, 2017 at 2:56 pm #

    My name is William H Darrow. I met Dickey Chapelle very briefly on the day she requested to go on a patrol with a unit from Second Bn. Fourth Marines from Chu Lai, Vietnam. At that time I was a Cpl. squad leader of a Raider Platoon known as “The Bull’s Raiders.” There were 10 of us in my squad.. I was asked if I would take her on patrol with me in what we used to call “Indian Country.” My patrol was to be a long range patrol and I refused to take her. Since I was in charge of this patrol, it was left up to me to say yes or no. Of course I said no. That’s how she went with that Company of Marines on that day. They were going on patrol in what we used to call “The back yard.” Their route of march was to the south of the airstrip and not that far from our command post. I didn’t know that she had been killed by a booby trap until I returned from our patrol which lasted for four days. The patrol I was on was routine and uneventful although we were close to the Ho Chi Minn Trail. I was truly sorry that I had refused to take her with me but I thought that where we were going would have too dangerous. There really wasn’t any safe place in Vietnam but Indian Country would have been considered very unsafe. God Bless, Bill Darrow


  1. War Photographer From Milwaukee | historical perspectives miad - October 22, 2013

    […] Ever heard of Dickey Chapelle?  I hadn’t either, but she was a war correspondent from Milwaukee who photographed World War II, the Cuban revolution, Che Guavera, the Viet Nam War, etc. She’s impressive!  http://www.nojobforawoman.com/reporters/dickey-chapelle/ […]

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