Dickey Chapelle

If there was one word to describe Shorewood alumna Dickey Chapelle, “fearless” would be it. Born in Milwaukee as Georgette Meyer, Dickey attended both Atwater Elementary School and Shorewood High School in the 1920's-30’s, later going on to become a prominent female war photojournalist during World War II and the Vietnam War.

During her time at Shorewood, Dickey—nicknamed after polar explorer Richard Byrd, whom she admired—was involved in both Ripples (the school newspaper) and the SHS Radio Club. Graduating as valedictorian of her class, Dickey had the opportunity to attend MIT on scholarship, where she began taking aeronautical design classes. Because of her fascination with aviation though, Dickey left MIT after one year and began working with barnstorming pilots and writing about their exploits. During this time, she also learned craft of photography and thus her career as a photojournalist began.

After returning to Milwaukee to earn her pilot’s license, she made her way to New York and found work as an airline photographer. Clearly not following a path typical of many women at the time, Dickey went on to work as a war correspondent photojournalist for National Geographic. She was posted with the Marines at both Iwo Jima and Okinawa, among other front line assignments during World War II.

Fiercely determined to capturing moments of battle in their rawest form, Dickey continued to follow the allure of danger and adventure around the world, traveling to Algeria, Cuba, Hungary, Lebanon, Panama, and Vietnam on assignment for various publications. Dickey worked hard to convince her male counterparts to allow her access to the action, often having to prove her worth not just as a dedicated photojournalist, but a professional female as well. She covered almost all of the major events of the mid-century including WW II, the Korean Conflict, Castro’s take over of Cuba, and the Hungarian Revolution. During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Dickey was jailed by Russians for more than seven weeks for smuggling medical supplies into the country and helping others escape, consequently producing a piece for Reader’s Digest on spending Christmas in a Hungarian prison.

Her spirited tenacity was balanced by charm, and she became very fondly regarded by the Marines that she held dear to her heart.

Dickey Chapelle was killed on November 4, 1965 after being struck by shrapnel ignited by a boobytrap blast on combat patrol in Vietnam. She was the first American woman reporter to be killed in action. The General of the U.S. Marine Corps, Wallace M. Greene, Jr., said after her death: “All U.S. Marines the world over mourn the death of Dickey Chapelle, who died of wounds received while covering combat operations by Marines in South Vietnam… She was not only a skilled, dedicated newspaper woman, but she was an exemplary patriot whose great love for her country was an inspiration to all who knew her and worked with her… She was one of us, and we will miss her.”

In 2003, Dickey was a recipient of the Shorewood’s Tradition of Excellence award, which recognizes alumni for outstanding achievement in their chosen field. In addition, the Milwaukee Press Club inducted Dickey into their Hall of Fame during a ceremony in October 2014, in honor of the 50th anniversary of her death.

Written by: Molly Loucks