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Book Bag: Dickey Chapelle Under Fire Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

25 February 2016

Georgie Lou grew up outside Milwaukee at the beginning of the last century, enamored of Admiral Bird's aerial explorations. She wanted to be just like him.

You can be anything you want to be in this country. If your mother permits it, that is. And her mother did not.

Details. Mouse over or tap for captions.

Become a writer, she suggested. So Georgie Lou did. When she witnessed a tragic accident at a Florida air show, she phoned in the story to the New York Times. She was just 18. It landed her a job at TWA in New York City.

By then she called herself Dickey after her hero and shortly after, she married a TWA photographer named Chapelle. It wasn't long after that she became a World War II war correspondent.

The book (whose full title is Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action) is nicely laid out with a title sequence for each chapter and a one-page biography covering the period during which the portfolio of images were taken.

John Garofolo put it together over a 20-year period. Garofolo is a screenwriter, college professor and former entertainment industry advertising and marketing executive. A veteran of the Iraq War, Garofolo provided security and escorted members of the international media into Iraq during the initial phase of the war and is currently a Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve, on active duty assigned to Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The 'circumstances,' let's call them, under which she worked didn't lend themselves to metering the light and composing the image.

For the book, he gathered together over 150 images from Chapelle's work in World War II to her last shots in Vietnam.

They're all black and white, of course. Little mention is made of the gear she used but we can assume she used a Speed Graphic in World War II, Garofolo mentioned she carried (and discarded) a Minox during the Russian invasion of Hungary and there's a couple of shots of her in the book with a Leica.

The "circumstances," let's call them, under which she worked didn't lend themselves to metering the light and composing the image. Her gear, remember, didn't help with automatic exposure or autofocus either. Consequently most of the images are not perfect exposures.

It's surprising, perhaps, how little that matters.

They depict the front lines of war. But there aren't any big explosions or fire fights. None of the glamour of war.

Instead, we see a a soldier's hand caked in mud unable to stop the flow of blood from his abdomen as he lies on a stretcher. Or two doctors hovering over an injured soldier, one holding up an IV and the other feeling the patient's forehead for his temperature. A makeshift stove for brewing coffee surrounded by crates marked "Human Blood." Or the barefeet of three small children on a dirt floor.

This is the story Chapelle told from the front lines as she followed the Marines into battle all over the world. The human story.

It's the one worth remembering, too, as some people running for president this year have found it expedient to belligerently threaten military action. You can bet they never served.

Chapelle served. And was killed when shrapnel from a land mine severed her carotid artery. "She was one of us," Marine Corps. Commandant Gen. Wallace M. Greene, Jr. said at the time of her death.

Dickey Chapelle Under Fire by John Garofolo, published by Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 166 pages, $25 (or $21.12 at

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