Dickey Chapelle is a new name for me. I learned of her only a short while ago. With a long history as a combat photojournalist spanning from WW2 (particularly Iwo Jima) to Vietnam, I felt like I my mind was playing tricks on me. How could someone so accomplished and enduring not have caught my attention earlier, especially considering the rarity of female combat photographers? I think the answer is simple: she died at the wrong time.
Gerda Taro’s death left a distraught Robert Capa to tell her story, after several years and countless rolls of film covering the Spanish Civil War together. In contrast, Dickey Chapelle’s early endeavors in the Pacific in WW2 occurred at the very start of her combat career, when she was still struggling to overcome hurdles specific to her gender. She may have photographed during the Cuba revolution and in Algeria prior to Vietnam, but it was the latter that really catapulted many photojournalists into the public limelight.
Chapelle died in November 1965, only eight months after the commencement of the American ground war in March of the same year. She was killed on patrol, when a US Marine triggered a trip wire connected to a landmine. A fragment severed her carotid artery and she bled out.
The above documentary says far more than I can in this short article, so I recommend you watch it. After all, this woman who won two press awards and the Distinguished Service Award (2015), which is presented annually to “a person or persons who, in the judgment of the United States Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association board of directors has or have made an especially significant contribution to the perpetuation of the ideals, traditions, stature and achievements of the United States Marine Corps.”
Included in Dickey Chapelle’s eulogy, US Marine Corps Commandant , General Greene, said “It has been said by media colleagues that, she died with the men she loved. It must also be said that the affection, admiration and respect was mutual. She was one of us, and we shall miss her.”
After watching the documentary, these words will make a great deal of sense. She was unique, she was a true trailblazer and clearly she has not been forgotten .
You can see more Dickey Chapelle photographs here at the Washington Post.