Friday, August 9, 2019


Dickey Chapelle in 1958 making a photograph while covering a Marine Corps operation on the shore of Lake Michigan, Milwaukee, with one of the 500 black Leica M2 made that year and coupled to a 7 elements in 6 groups black Summicron-M 5 cm f/2 Rigid. On top of the camera is a Leica Meter MR chrome inserted in the accessory shoe. Picture made by Marine Master Sgt. Lew Lowery. 
© Wisconsin Historical Images

By José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Throughout a 23 year career between 1942 and 1965, Dickey Chapelle became an internationally acclaimed war photographer, having covered a number of assignments in which she proved her mettle and talent once and again, covering such highly dangerous battles and conflicts as Iwo Jima and Okinawa (1945), Algeria War and others, particularly the Vietnam War (in which she excelled as a combat correspondent between 1961 and November 4, 1965 when she was killed by the shrapnel of a Viet Cong tripwire booby-trap made up by a mortar shell and a hand grenade attached to its top, while she was embedded with a US marine platoon during the second day of Operation Black Ferret, 16 km south of the village of Chu Lai, Quang Ngai Province in South Vietnam), getting great pictures and winning the respect and accolades of every US marine with whom she went during operations and front line battles, exactly in the same conditions as them.

Dickey Chapelle receiving the coveted Georg Polk Award of the Overseas Press Club of America in April 1962 from William Lawrence of the New York Times at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, for her outstanding coverage of the Vietnam War, making her the first woman to receive it. 
© Wisconsin Historical Images


Dickey Chapelle´s way of getting pictures had a straightforward keynote strongly rooted in the halcyon days of photojournalism: to be at the right place at the adequate instant, approaching as much as possible to subjects, striving upon being unnoticed and pressing the shutter release button of her cameras as accurately as possible to capture defining moments.

It was a practical approach in which photographic cameras and lenses were chosen by her according to her professional needs, in which maximum feasible proximity to the core of action was top priority.

Two doctors with a wounded marine in an Okinawa field hospital in 1945, made with a Leica IIIc camera coupled to a Leitz Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

In addition, she steadily gained leverage of her boundless courage, her remarkable speed of movements, an uncommon eye for dramatic pictures, an innate sense of anticipation, an uncommon nose to discern the environments in which she could make good stories, and above all, the fulfillment of the greatest goal : to get the picture, irrespective of technical considerations, without forgetting the two statement she always repeated to her working colleagues:

- ´ The main thing you have to always remember about covering combat is that you´ve got to survive, get the story and the pictures out to the world.

- ´ The picture is your reason for being. If you can´t prove it happened with a picture, it didn´t happen ´.

And to properly cope with this kind of war photojournalism made from exceedingly short distances, the best photographic tool is a Leica M rangefinder camera.
Dickey Chapelle´s favorite one was the Leica M2, which she mostly used coupled to 50 mm and 35 mm lenses.

Dickey Chapelle´s hands holding a black Leica M2 during her coverage in 1958 of a Marine Corps operation beside the Lake Michigan (Milwaukee). The camera is coupled to a 7 elements in 6 groups Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 Rigid. A Leica Meter MR Chrome made by Metrawatt A.G. Nürnberg is inserted in the accessory shoe. This precision light exposure featured a sensitive cadmium sulfide photo resistor, designed to couple the shutter speed dial of the camera and getting remarkable accuracy on making possible to see the important subject area through the 90 mm frame of the viewfinder.


From the very beginning of her amazing career as a combat photojournalist in 1942

American soldiers strain to push a 75 mm artillery piece into position in Panama in 1942 during a drill. Dickey Chapelle begins showing her great potential as a combat photographer in this picture in which she has masterfully captured the effort of the four soldiers moving the Pack Howitzer M1, using her Leica IIIc coupled to a Leitz Summaron 35 mm f/3.5 to create a great composition in symbiosis with the smart choice of a slow shutter speed to render the lower feet, ankles and boots of the three G.I nearest to the camera blurred, so conveying a feeling of motion. One year and a half has elapsed since her marriage in October 1940 with Tony Chapelle (a highly experienced photographer since the First World War with the US Navy and subsequently in a number of significant firms, including the creation of publicity images for TWA American Airlines) and his photography lessons imparted to Dickey start to pay off. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

in Panama covering US forces in an assignment for Look magazine,

Two American soldiers advancing through the waters of Tuira river, province of Darién, in the east of Panama, in 1942. Dickey Chapelle, who is behind the G.Is, also advancing through the river, has raised her arms as much as she has been able, holding her Leica IIIc between her hands and doing a vertical picture of the three soldiers, to highlight their effort striving upon keeping balance raising their 45 ACP caliber Thompson M1928A1 submachine guns at the height of their heads.   
Dickey Chapelle felt that 24 x 36 mm format Leica rangefinders cameras were the best photographic tools for her trade,

Dickey Chapelle in 1944. She is wearing a Leica IIIc coupled to a 7 elements in 5 groups Ernst Leitz Wetzlar Summarex 8.5 cm f/1.5 black lens. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images 
and she started a lifelong romance with Leitz cameras and lenses, opting for a screwmount Leica IIIC and Elmar 5 cm f/3.5 lens with which she covered Iwo Jima and Okinawa battles in 1944 during the Second World War.

Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

Dickey Chapelle in 1955 with her Leica IIIc getting pictures of US marines at the Camp Pendleton USMC recruit base in Southern California, approximately 38 miles from San Diego, where she spent two months.

Selective reframing of the picture showing Dickey Chapelle´s Leica IIIc and that it is coupled to a 6 elements in 4 groups Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 75 mm f/1.5 in LTM39 mount, an extraordinary lens for portraits, yielding a superb bokeh.

Hungarian refugees crossing a frozen field into Austria, after having walked ten miles, near the village of Andau, fleeing from the Soviet Invasion of their country in 1956. Dickey Chapelle risked her life different times in this area, guarded by Soviet soldiers and members of the Hungarian secret police, until she was finally captured and sent to a prison in Budapest, where she was for five weeks. This image appeared in Life magazine, along with some more made by her in Hungary that year. Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

She also covered with that Leica IIIc the 1956 Hungarian Revolution against Soviet invasion (getting pictures of Hungarian refugees crossing the border between Hungary and Austria), and one year later, in 1957, she spent thirty-two days with the guerrilla fighters of the Algerian Army of Liberation in mountains near Sahara desert.

Photo : Dickey Chapelle / Wisconsin Historical Images

Great portrait of an Algerian fighter of the FLN made by Dickey Chapelle inside a cave of the Algerian zone of Atlas Mountains in 1957 with her Leica IIIc and a Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens, probably at f/4 and a very slow shutter speed, which has resulted in the blurred moving left hand of the man. The great war photojournalist from Milwaukee has gone utterly unnoticed while surprising him engrossed in his thoughts. In addition, the little big woman, always paying heed to every detail, has taken advantage of the great quality of light coming from the right and only illuminating the front area of his countenance and turban, along with most of his lower apparel.

Dickey Chapelle in early fifties with her Leica IIIc coupled to a Nikkor-Q Auto 135 mm f/4 in LTM39 mount. 
© Wisconsin Historical Images

Dickey Chapelle posing with two Marine Corps photographers in late fifties. She is wearing her Leica IIIc coupled to a 7 elements in 4 groups Leitz Summitar 5 cm f/2 and has attached two cans for 35 mm films to her jacket, while another film can is visible on the attire of the photographer on her left. 
© Wisconsin Historical Society

Subsequently, she used a Leica IIIG camera during her coverage for Reader´s Digest of the Cuban Revolution in 1958 and then in Laos. She would go on using this camera for some reportages during 1959 and first half of sixties, taking advantage of its exceedingly small size and low weight.

Dickey Chapelle posing with some Cuban revolutionary soldiers during her coverage of the conflict in the Caribbean island in 1958. She is wearing a LTM39 Leica IIIG rangefinder camera. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

Selective reframing of the picture showing the Leica IIIG camera used by Dickey Chapelle in Cuba. It appears coupled to a Leitz Summaron 35 mm f/3.5 wideangle lens with IROOA shade attached.

Anyway, from 1958 onward she would mostly use a Leica M2 black coupled to a 7 elements in 6 groups chrome Leitz Summicron-M 50 mm f/2 DR Type 2 and above all a chrome Leica M2 with a 8 elements in 6 groups Leitz Canada Summicron-M 35 mm f/2 1st version wideangle lens, although she also used

Dickey Chapelle on board of a gunboat of the South Vietnamese Arm sailing across the waters of Mekong River Delta in the Tay Nam Bo South Western Region of Vietnam, while fulfilling her famous assignment " Water War in Vietnam " for National Geographic magazine. She is holding between her hands a Leica M2 coupled to a Leitz Elmarit 90 mm f/2.8, while hanging beside her right arm is a Nikonos I camera attached to a Nikkor W 35 mm f/2.5 wideangle lens. This was a very dangerous photographic mission, since Viet Cong soldiers hidden in the jungles on both shores of the river often opened fire against the gunboats with machine guns and AK-47 assault rifles, and there were also VC snipers shooting with 7.62 x 54 mm caliber Mosin Nagant M44 rifles and 7.62 x 39 mm caliber SKS semi automatic carbines, which brought about oodles of fidgets. It all in the midst of appalling climatic conditions, with temperatures of 37º C and thermal feeling of around 55º C because of the hugely high humidity levels. 
© Wisconsin Historical Society

a 5 elements in 3 groups and 12 blade Leitz Elmarit 90 mm f/2.8 directly coupled,

Legendary picture of Dickey Chapelle wearing camouflage uniform, Australian bush hat, black-rimmed glasses and her famous pearl earrings, made in 1964, when she was doing her reportage titled " Water War in Vietnam " for National Geographic magazine, covering the operations of South Vietnamese gunboats through Mekong river delta. Along with her cameras and lenses, she has attached a total of six film cans to her uniform. 
© Wisconsin Historical Society   
and a 4 elements in 4 groups Leitz Canada Telyt-V 200 mm f/4 with built-in extendable lens hood connected to her Leica M2 cameras through a Visoflex II reflex housing with bayonet mount.

Selective reframing of the image showing more detail of Dickey Chapelle´s photographic gear. Along with the aforementioned Leitz Canada Telyt-V 200 mm f/4 with built-in extendable lens hood connected to a Leica M2 camera through a Visoflex II reflex housing with bayonet mount, we can see another superb camera : a Nikonos I underwater camera from 1963, which could dive as deep as 50 meters and withstand temperatures as low as -20º C, and is coupled to an extraordinary 6 elements in 4 groups Nikkor W 35 mm f/2.5 amphibious wideangle lens (able to get pictures above and below water) inspired by the optical formula of the W-Nikkor. C 3.5 cm f/2.5 for Nippon Kogaku rangefinder cameras, and delivering such a high image quality that it was recently adapted to Leica M mount by the Japanese brand MS Optics. 


Dickey Chapelle was a unique woman, featuring tremendous resolve, tenacity, craving for adventure, boundless courage, unswerving lifetime commitment in body and soul to become a good foreign correspondent, an irrepressible desire to know as many countries as possible and meet new and interesting people, an impressive unselfish spirit which took both her and her husband Tony Chapelle (an experienced photographer knowing every side of the trade and featuring great darkroom knowledge, to such an extent that in December of 1947, while working for the American Friends Service Committee in Europe, was able to develop four hundred negatives of 24 x 36 mm format Kodak Super-XX Safety film rolls in Gdynia, Poland, with temperatures below zero, inside an old farmhouse, using tin bathtubs for the solutions, which were heated on a wood stove by Dickey) travelling all over the world for six years documenting the efforts made by relief agencies to alleviate suffering in countries like India, Iran, Iraq and others.

And all those qualities were instrumental in her development as a photographer, a profession she loved to her utmost, in addition to being a great writer, so she also made the texts of her reportages. Not in vain Dickey Chapelle often defined herself as an independent writer photographer on overseas assignments.

She visited many countries as a top-notch foreign correspondent (Panamá, Dominican Republic, Japan, Algeria, Lebanon, Laos, Cuba, Vietnam and many others).

Corporal William Fenton of the US Marines lays badly wounded on a gurney inside USS Samaritan hospital ship, anchored very near the beach of Iwo Jima, waiting for medical treatment. Dicky Chapelle explained in some of her illustrated essays that a total of 551 critically wounded marines were brought aboard that ship trying to save their lives. And she got pictures of many of them. Iwo Jima was one of the most fiercely fought battles during the Second World War, with 6,821 marines killed and 19,217 wounded, while the Japanese forces had got around 21,000 dead and only 216 prisoners. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

But her life turning point as a human being and as a combat photographer took place in 1945 when she was for the first time with the US marines during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific theatre of operations during the Second World War.

Cover of the April 2016 number of America in WWII illustrated magazine including a detailed article on the landmark reportage on critically wounded marines and doctors attending them made by Dickey Chapelle in Iwo Jima during February and March of 1945. More than half a century after her death, Dickey Chapelle´s photographic work keeps on being studied and accoladed both in the sphere of photojournalism and highly specialized historical magazines.

She got pictures of umpteen badly injured marines inside the USS Samaritan hospital ship, as well as seeing many of them die,

Iwo Jima airstrip, captured by US troops during the sixth day of battle. In the background is visible the mythical Mount Suribachi, which the Japanese forces had turned into a virtually impregnable honeycomb of caves, underground tunnels, bunkers, artillery places, machine-gun nests, mortar pillboxes, sniper foxholes, etc, so it was extremely difficult to capture it and a very high figure of US marines were killed. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

and would even go to Iwo Jima inner island to get more pictures.

It was the beginning of an eternal relationship with them, to such an extent that defying the ban on female correspondents to go ashore in combat areas, she decided to go with the marines to Okinawa island and experience things in front line.

That meant an indelible event in her existence, because if Iwo Jima had been a huge carnage,

May of 1945. United States soldiers unloading wooden boxes with human blood of different types from a Douglas C-47 Dakota military transport aircraft in an airport of Okinawa to attend the thousands of American marines and G.Is seriously injured during the battle for the island. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

Okinawa would beat every record in terms of bloody clash and death toll in the Pacific War, with 20,000 American soldiers dead and 110,000 Japanese ones.

Dickey Chapelle spent ten days inside the island with a medical company.

Her pictures made in Iwo Jima and Okinawa were published by Cosmopolitan magazine in December of 1945.

A marine pyschiatrist and a hospital corpsman tend to a wounded marine at a field hospital in Okinawa. May of 1945. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images    
From then on, she would never be undeterred by danger.

She always went to extraordinary lengths to cover a story in every war she was present, tackling constant high risks for her life, specially in Vietnam War, during the coverage of her famous

National Geographic of February 1966, publishing again the article made by Dickey Chapelle " Water War in Vietnam " made by her in 1964 in the Mekong river delta and another one on his death in Vietnam on November 4, 1965, titled Dickey Chapelle Killed in Action.  
" Water War in Vietnam " essay for National Geographic magazine, with the South Vietnamese Army gunboats being often shot from the Mekong river banks by Vietcong machine guns and snipers;

© Dickey Chapelle / Wisconsin Historical Images

getting pictures during mortar shelling capturing the reaction of children;

Cover of the National Geographic magazine number of November, 1962 including the article " Helicopters Over South Vietnam " with text and photos by Dickey Chapelle.

getting pictures of US helicopters at Khanh Hung, Vinh Loi, Can Tho, Kha Quang and over the sunlit rice fields of Ba Xuyen Province

© Dickey Chapelle / Wisconsin Historical Images

photographing highly stressful interrogations of VC prisoners;

© Dickey Chapelle / Wisconsin Historical Images

getting images of civilian casualties of war;

documenting South Vietnamese troops advancing up river on a small vessel in 1961,

To create this great picture Dickey Chapelle has masterfully used her Leica M2 coupled to a Leitz canada Summicron 35 mm f/2 1st version, probably choosing f/8 or f/11 to get great depth of field, highlighting the standing man on the boat with a rifle visible hanging from his shoulders (and whose mission is to watch the horizon in search of enemy troops). She has managed to generate a dramatic image whose main focus of attention is the dog crossing the makeshift wooden bridge. An impending instant of increased danger is about to take place, because the standing man will have to crouch very much or sit on the boat to cross under the bridge. This is an exceedingly dangerous context, because the small vessel is overcrowded with men, and ambushes by Viet Cong members were very frequent. The men in the background are keeping an eye on the right shore, looking for hidden enemies or booby-traps. The photographer has faithfully depicted an atmosphere of death risk constantly pervading everything, enhanced by the powerful shadows and the anxious countenance of one of the South Vietnamese soldiers at the front of the vessel, who is looking backwards fearing a VC attack from that direction.    

© Dickey Chapelle / Wisconsin Historical Images

capturing with her Leica M2 and Summicron-M 35 mm f/2, from a very low angle with one knee on the ground, the South Vietnamese soldiers disembarking with fixed bayonet in their rifles from a US Army Piasecki H-21C Shawnee helicopter in 1962 on their way to assault a village near Soc Tranh suspected of harboring Vietcong; photographing US marine crew chief Nelson West and some South Vietnamese soldiers heavily armed inside a helicopter patrolling an area near Vinh Quoi (Vietnam) in 1962, and many others, including the coverage of the Black Ferret operation during its two first days, embedded with the US marines and utterly sharing risks with them until her death.

Therefore, Dickey Chapelle reached the apex of her 23 years professional career as a war correspondent between 1961 and 1965, covering the Vietnam War, making amazing photographs and becoming one of the greatest combat photographers in the world at the time, something exceedingly praiseworthy, because there were a number of also internationally acclaimed photographers getting pictures of that conflict : Henri Huet, Horst Faas, Huynh Thanh My (Nick Ut´s brother), Larry Burrows, Kent Porter, Keiseburo Shimamoto, Joseph Galloway, Phillip Jones Griffiths, Steve Stibbens, Don Hirst, Tim Page, Kyoichi Sawada and others.  


Chaplain John McNamara from Boston makes the sign of cross as he administers the last rites to Dickey Chapelle, who has just died near Chu Lai (South Vietnam) because of the shrapnel of a Viet Cong booby-trap impacting on her neck. The body of the courageous American war photographer is lying upside down on the ground in the middle of a pool of blood, while her face and her lower left forearm are also covered with blood. 
© Henri Huet / AP

Dickey Chapelle was killed on November 4, 1965 by a piece of shrapnel of a tripwire booby-trap put by Vietcong and made up by a mortar shell and a hand grenade attached to its top while she was on assignment for The Observer magazine and advancing embedded with a US marine platoon during the second day of Operation Black Ferret, 16 km south of the coastal city of Chu Lai, Quang Ngai Province, in South Vietnam, becoming the first female American war photographer killed in action.

Throughout years there has been some speculation that she died inside a helicopter while being evacuated to a hospital after having been wounded by a Vietcong land mine.

But Jack Paxton, a highly experienced retired veteran captain of the US Marines and director of the Marine Corps Correspondents Association, who was a war photographer with the 1st Marine Division in Korea between 1951-1952 and with the III Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam in 1965-1966, proved that those rumors were false, and that Dickey Chapelle died in the field, because of the lethal wound in her carotid artery made by the shrapnel of a Viet Cong booby trap.

If it were not enough, the certainty of captain John Paxton´s statement is utterly reinforced by the analysis of the cinematographic footage of Dickey Chapelle´s body on the ground shot with Arriflex 16S movie camera attached to 400 feet magazine and Kodachrome color film few seconds after the administering of the last rites to her by Chaplain McNamara:

© Wisconsin Historical Images

The Vietcong booby-trap has exploded a few minutes ago, killing Dickey Chapelle and seriously injuring four marines because of the deadly arc described by the shrapnel of the mortar shell with a grenade on top. Some of the marines are being attended at the moment.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

A wounded marine is lying on the floor, being attended while another marine writes down his personal data on a paper sheet to stick on his uniform before being evacuated by helicopter.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

Body of Dickey Chapelle, upside down and with the right side of her face lying on the ground, in the middle of a big pool of blood. A piece of shrapnel has made impact on her neck, cutting her carotid artery.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

A marine takes Dickey´s pulse, verifying that she is dead. The nearer shot made by the 16 mm cinematographic camera reveals that the pool of blood is approximately one meter wide.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

A South Vietnamese doctor writes down Dickey Chapellé s data on a paper sheet to attach to her jacket.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

After a few more minutes, two Sikorsky H-34 helicopters arrive to evacuate Dickey Chapelle´s body and the wounded marines.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

Dickey Chapelle´s body has just been tied to a stretcher being taken by two American soldiers to one of the helicopters.

Henri Huet (war photographer for Associated Press in Vietnam) is visible beside the gurney. A few minutes ago he got the vertical black and white picture of chaplain McNamara administering the last rites to Dickey Chapelle.

Henry Huet´countenance reveals shock and deep introspection. He has decided to accompany  Dickey Chapelle´s body until the evacuation in one of the helicopters. He does feel the need to do this.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

The stretcher bearers increase their walking speed, because this is a dangerous context in which there could be a Viet Cong attack, and Henri Huet also accelerates his steps.

He hasn´t taken any picture and doen´t look at Dickey Chapelle´s body on the stretcher at any moment. Dickey´s face is full of blood. She has died doing what she most loved.

Henry Huet keeps on being with a kind of lifeless gaze. The helicopter is nearer. He knows he will not share more instants with the brave war photojournalist from Milwaukee (Wisconsin).

© Wisconsin Historical Images

Henri Huet slows his walking pace a bit. He is absolutely despondent, grabbing with his right hand a Nikon F attached to a Nikkor-P Auto 105 mm f/2.5 Pre-AI lens, while a Leica M2 coupled to a Summaron-M 35 mm f/2.8 lens with its 12585 shade is hanging from his neck and visible on his chest. But he will go on without getting any picture, because now top priority is full respect to Dickey Chapelle´s body during these last instants until reaching the helicopter.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

The stretcher bearers are about to reach the helicopter and Henri Huet slows very much his walking pace. He keeps on being pensive and distressed and hasn´t looked at Dickey´s body during these meters.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

The stretcher bearers are now at very few meters from the helicopter that will evacuate Dickey Chapelle´s body, and Henri Huet has stopped accompanying her. He will die six years later, on February 10, qirh Larrry Burrows (Life magazine), Kent Potter (UPI), and Keizaburo Shimamoto (Newsweek) 1971 inside a helicopter UH-1 Huey of the South Vietnam Army shot down by hidden North Vietnamese anti aircraft guns in Southern Laos

© Wisconsin Historical Images

Because of the highly stressful circumstances previous to the arrival of the helicopters, the South Vietnamese doctor had forgotten to attach the sheet of paper with Dickey Chapelle´s data on her body, so he runs towards the stretcher bearers and does it in the last moment.


Fifty-four years have elapsed since the death of Dickey Chapelle on November 4, 1965 in Vietnam while going on patrol as a war photographer embedded with the US marines.

© Wisconsin Historical Images

She was and goes on being a fundamental figure in the History of Photojournalism, a world-class war photographer and a pioneer along with Gerda Taro, Margaret Bourke-White, Therese Bonney, Toni Frissell, Margueritte Higgins, and Catherine Leroy, in proving that women could be as good as men in such an extremely dangerous job.

Dickey Chapelle could have chosen a much easier way, earning much more money and enjoying a comfortable life.

Because she was a tremendously intelligent woman who already at the Shorewood (Milwaukee) High School graduated as valedictorian of her class, with such high marks that she obtained a full scholarship to study aeronautical design at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she enhanced her fascination for aircraft and dreamed of flying them.

As a matter of fact, she became an outstanding expert in aviation and an authority in her beloved Grumman F3F US Navy biplane fighter from second half of thirties, on which she made an article with text and pictures that was published by The New York Times.

But she finally opted for devoting her life to photography, as a foreign unfettered combat correspondent, documenting conflicts around the world and giving vent to her hunker for adventure.

Dickey Chapelle was a very special person, with aura, a tremendous sense of comradeship wherever she was, impressive intelligence and insight of the psychological forces unfolding during combats and the instants previous to them, giving good advice to everybody and steadily trying to help.

Her heart and unselfishness were immense.

That´s why stunningly, memorials keep on being held for her more than fifty years after her death.

Suffice it to say that during forties and first half of fifties she asked some publishers not to be paid more than her husband Tony Chapelle, that had taught her the basic photographic concepts, and that she traveled in December 1945 from Vietnam to the St. Albans Hospital (Vermont) in United States to visit Corporal William Fenton, who had been about to die during Iwo Jima battle ten months before, and spent the Christmas Day with him and his family.

And whenever she was asked if war was a place for a woman, she always answered that definitely not, but that in addition, it wasn´t a place for any human being.

Three critically wounded marines shot in February 1945 during the pitched battle for Suribachi Mount in Iwo Jima and evacuated with a landing craft are on stretches and about to be raised on board of the USS Samaritan medical ship, anchored very near the island beach. Throughout her lectures all over the United States, the great war photographer from Milwaukee (Wisconsin) was an unwavering advocate of blood transfusions significance to save many lives of American soldiers and marines. 
Photo: Dickey Chapelle / © Wisconsin Historical Images

To get the best possible pictures as a fearless combat photographer, often in front lines or beside seriously injured US soldiers and marines, became her raison d´être, insisting on reporting only about what she could see first hand in the very scenery where action took place, being a devotee of physical fitness and preparing as a marine, running 3 miles on a daily basis, with unbridled enthusiasm.

But there was always a further very important thing for her : not to receive any favouritism by the marines when she went embedded with them, not to interfere any way in their missions, not to be granted any special treatment by them, because Dickey Chapelle did know that it would have jeopardized their lives.

That´s why the little big woman went always with them as a one more marine, rising to the challenge.

Because however incredible it may seem, evidence clearly suggests that Dickey Chapelle considered the marines as if they were her children, and all of them, from the rank and file to the highest officers, felt that love right off the bat in Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1944 and subsequently in Vietnam after she got her first pictures in the village of Binh Hung in 1961.

It follows that she was mentally stronger than many men, and developed a protective instinct in this regard which began in mid thirties when still being a teenager she started  to lovely take the left hand of her brother Robert (born in 1924, five years younger than Dickey, who would be Physics Professor at the University of Wisconsin and was always bowled over by her sister´s accomplishments) with her right one in the family pictures made during thirties, with all of them elegantly dressed.

n 1963 Dickey Chapelle won the internationally prestigious National Press Photographers Association Award for her illustrated article " Helicopters Over South Vietnam " published by National Geographic magazine in its number of November of the previous year, when she flew embedded with some American helicopter units during different operations.

By dint of tenacity, infatuation with photography, progressively gleaned experience, endeavor to think as a photographer such as she had been taught during forties in weekly classes by her husband Tony Chapelle, observation of the images made by other prominent war photographers of the time, writing down of all kind of anecdotes and important data in small notebooks she always took with her, increasing mastery using Leica cameras and lenses optimized for the in-fighting distances, etc, Dickey Chapelle managed to become one of the best war photographers in the world from early sixties, after having published her images in such prestigious international illustrated magazines as Look, Reader´s Digest, Life, The Observer, National Geographic and others.

She died in Vietnam on November 4, 1965, unabatedly doing what she most loved : to get pictures as a combat photographer, fending for herself and leaving an everlasting memory in all the people who had the chance to know her.  

And her towering figure, legacy and remembrance have mainly been preserved thanks to the efforts of some persons and institutions that have strenuously fought throughout decades to keep her memory alive :

- Ron Chapelle (retired major of the USAF, stepson of Dickey Chapelle and son of the great photographer Tony Chapelle, who was Dickey Chapelle´s husband for fifteen years and taught her the fundamentals of photography and how to tell stories with images at the beginning of her career)

- Martha Rosemeyer (Dickey Chapelle´s niece).

- Rob Meyer (Dickey´s nephew who was nine year old when the war photojournalist died).

- Karen de Hartog (Historian of Shorewood village in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, where Dickey Chapelle was born and brought up).

- Dorothy Stock Hoffmann (classmate of Dickey Chapelle at the Shorewood High School in 1942 and a great admirer of hers).

- Joseph Galloway (one of the foremost combat photographers during Vietnam War, great friend of Dickey Chapelle, decorated in 1998 with the Star Medal of the United States Armed Forces for risking his life helping to rescue a badly wounded marine under enemy fire on November 15, 1965, during the Battle of la Drang Valley, National Magazine Award in 1991, New Media Award of the National VFW for coverage of the Persian Gulf War in 1992 and 2005 Tex McCrary Award of the Congressional Medal of Honour Society).

- Jackie Spinner (former combat photographer, who worked for the Washington Post from 1995 to 2009, covering the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, member of the Society of Professional Journalists and presently a journalism teacher at Columbia College Chicago).

- Jack Paxton (great friend of Dickey Chapelle, retired captain of the USMC, sadly passed away on April 17, 2018, combat correspondent with the 1st Marine Division in Korea between 1951-1952 and with the III Marine Amphibious Force in Vietnam in 1965-1966).

- Martin Hintz (Milwaukee journalist).

- John Garofolo (author of the gorgeous 2015 book Dickey Chapelle Under Fire, Photographs by the first American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action).

- The Wisconsin Historical Society, which has been able throughout the fifty-four years elapsed since Dickey Chapelle´s death to increasingly foster the interest for her great pictures and fascinating personality.

- The Milwaukee Press Club, in whose Hall of Fame Dickey Chapel was inducted in 2014.

Dickey Chapelle Under Fire, Photographs by the first American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action, a milestone and very interesting 136 page and big 24.8 x 2.3 x 24. 8 cm size book containing a wisely chosen selection of 153 riveting b & w photos made by the great female combat photographer, written by John Garafolo (a commander in the US Coast Guard Reserve, with more than twenty-five years of active and reserve military service, having taught at the Coast Guard Academy, as well as having been a veteran of the First Iraqi War), with foreword by Jackie Spinner and edited by the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.

A top-notch work made without compromises of any kind : highly resistant hardcover, excellent quality of pictures reproduction, knowledgeable choice of paper thickness, and above all, an insightful and poignant coverage of Dickey Chapelle´s powerful life story and influential photographic work.

This book is a commendable effort to keep alive the flame of Dickey Chapelle´s memory and a must for any enthusiast of photojournalism, war photography or simply amazing pictures from the heyday of

© Wisconsin Historical Images

stories told with black and white images by a great combat correspondent, skilfull photographer and extraordinary woman that was second to none in courage, committment, love and passion for what she did, risking her life and going above and beyond her call of duty as a war photographer, from dawn to setting sun, in every clime and place, until her death.

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  1. I knew her pictures and only now the sad story of the person behind them, tragic

  2. Thanks for creating this page, it's excellent work. One small clarification on the life vests being worn in photo 05g1.jpg. Chapelle has one 35mm film canister not two. The other cylindrical object on two of these vests is an emergency signal light. (see