Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action

Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action
Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action
Hardcover: $25.00
136 pages, 153 b&w photos,9¾ x 9¾
ISBN: 9780870207181

Published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press

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Product Details
By John Garofolo
Foreword by Jackie Spinner, former war correspondent, Washington Post

"It was dawn before I fell asleep, and later in the morning I was only half-awake as I fed a fresh sheet of paper into the typewriter and began to copy the notes from the previous day out of my book. But I wasn’t too weary to type the date line firmly as if I’d been writing date lines all my life:

from the front at iwo jima march 5—

Then I remembered and added two words.

under fire—

They looked great.”

--Dickey Chapelle

In 1965, Wisconsin native Georgette "Dickey” Chapelle became the first female American war correspondent to be killed in action. Now, Dickey Chapelle Under Fire shares her remarkable story and offers readers the chance to experience Dickey’s wide-ranging photography, including several photographs taken during her final patrol in Vietnam.

Dickey Chapelle fought to be taken seriously as a war correspondent and broke down gender barriers for future generations of female journalists. She embedded herself with military units on front lines around the globe, including Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Dominican Republic, and Vietnam. Dickey sometimes risked her life to tell the story—after smuggling aid to refugees fleeing Hungary, she spent almost two months in a Hungarian prison. For twenty-five years, Dickey’s photographs graced the pages of National Geographic, the National Observer, Life, and others. Her tenacity, courage, and compassion shine through in her work, highlighting the human impact of war while telling the bigger story beyond the battlefield.

Dickey Chapelle Under Fire will be the first comprehensive collection of Dickey’s work shared with the American public in almost fifty years, with a foreword by Jackie Spinner, former war correspondent for The Washington Post.
John Garofolo is a former entertainment industry executive and veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A commander in the US Coast Guard Reserve, he has more than twenty-five years of active and reserve military service and taught at the Coast Guard Academy. Thanks to a grant from the Brico Fund through the Milwaukee Press Endowment, he has written a stage adaptation of Dickey Chapelle’s life. John earned a PhD from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts and lives with his wife and daughter in Southern California. 

Q&A with John Garofolo, author of "Dickey Chapelle Under Fire”

Why did you decide to write "Dickey Chapelle Under Fire?”

I’d been working on a Chapelle screenplay for a number of years and it finally dawned on me a few years back that while Chapelle had written an autobiography and there was a 1992 biography, there wasn’t anything that really showcased her photography. I felt that was a missing component of Dickey’s narrative. Her autobiography hit the key points of her life, although I doubt it is a completely truthful, and the Ostroff biography did a deep dive into the minutia of her life, possibly to a fault and neither showed much of her work as a photographer.

Did you focus on a particular event in Dickey’s life while writing the book?

In this case, the focus of the book is on her body of work as a photographer. Since she started out as a writer, I think people tended to overlook her photography, especially since she led such a fascinating life as Roberta Ostroff tried to uncover in her biography.  It’s hard for me to pick one particular event as more important than any other since I was looking to paint a picture of her life by representing the totality of her work across multiple periods of her life.

What do you hope readers take away from the book?

I hope readers will appreciate her work as a photographer, but also gain a sense of what mattered most to her, which was to reveal the horror of war [and] reveal the bravery, compassion and dedication of the people who fight wars and the consequences that they often suffer. Dickey Chapelle deserves to be recognized as a significant figure in American history. 

What did you find most fascinating about Dickey Chapelle?

I’m impressed with the fact that Dickey overcame a number of challenges just to do her job. Her husband, Tony, who taught her photography in the first place was understandably less than thrilled with Dickey pushing so hard to get herself into combat during World War II. She competed for stories and opportunities with men who were not about to let her get an advantage. She earned the respect and trust of the Marines who fought in two of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific during World War II. By the time she got to Vietnam, she was fighting age and injuries and had been reporting on wars for more than twenty years and still competing for assignments with men. She knew the job was dangerous yet kept at it despite knowing the possible consequences of doing so. She worked hard and never gave up on telling the story she wanted to tell until the very day she died.

How can this book serve as a guide to Chapelle’s work?

Fortunately, this book serves as a great guide to Dickey Chapelle’s work since it shows you what her work actually looked like. Even though the book doesn’t go very deep into her life story by design, each chapter essay reveals something about who Dickey Chapelle was and what was going on in her life at the time. Her photos reveal what was important to her by showing where she was at in a given moment, what was going on while she was there and, most importantly, what she chose to focus her camera on.

What were some of the most interesting or surprising things you learned from writing this book?

I was pretty familiar with Dickey’s life and story from working on a screenplay over a number of years, but what was interesting to me, as far as the process for the book was concerned, was I had been distancing myself from the actuality of Dickey’s life in order to serve the narrative for a feature film. In order for the book to really work, I had to reconnect with the real Dickey Chapelle, not the idealized version needed for a screenplay. What was kind of surprising to me were the number of inaccurate or sort-of-close-to-accurate pieces of information that had been floating around for a number of years. One of which was that she was "barely five feet tall in combat boots.” She was actually five feet four and a half. Another was that she covered the Korean War, which is incorrect. She lost her military press accreditation after the battle of Okinawa and was working for relief agencies in the early 1950’s. She did go to Korea in the late 1950’s, but well after the end of hostilities in 1953. Like all of us, Dickey was less than perfect, but she was absolutely devoted to her craft and telling the stories of those who fight wars, or those who suffer the consequences of war.

In what ways is "Dickey Chapelle Under Fire” a uniquely Wisconsin story?

Dickey’s story is a great Wisconsin story. She was born in Milwaukee to German-American parents and was influenced by her midwestern upbringing before leaving to go to MIT. Even though she lived in Milwaukee infrequently after she moved to Florida and then to New York, which was her professional home base, she always had her family ties to the state. Her brother Robert Meyer and sister-in-law Marion were both professors at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and after she was killed in Vietnam, she was returned to her family in Wisconsin and buried in Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Historical Society houses the Dickey Chapelle Archives, which includes more than 20,000 of her photographic images and their sister press division is publishing this book.

Were there some photos not featured in the book that you wish you could have included?

With more than 20,000 images and a limited number that could be fit in the book, there were countless photos that were contenders that couldn’t be included. I still agonize over the considerable number that had to left aside, or were a coin toss away from making the final cut. Of course, there are photos that may have won the coin toss that I can second-guess forever.

How was this a personal experience?

As I mentioned, I’ve been working on the Chapelle story for a long time and being able to reconnect with her work in hopes of finding the fundamental essence of Dickey Chapelle was a rewarding experience. I think the more I work on Chapelle’s story, the more I’m convinced that I haven’t even scratched the surface of who she was.

Do you have one image that really speaks to you and captures the experience?

To me, all the photos collectively tell a story about who Dickey Chapelle was, but I do have a favorite image of sorts that gives a hint as to what was important to Dickey. There’s a picture Dickey took of an Army Captain from the 82nd Airborne Division in the Dominican Republic in 1965. It shows him dancing with a group of school-girls and I like the juxtaposition of the soldier in a combat situation that reveals his humanity and concern for the girls. At the same time, it reveals Dickey’s sense of drama and her experience as a photographer documenting the plight of the innocents often most affected by war.