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Remembering Wisconsin War Photographer Dickey Chapelle 50 Years Later

Many journalists aren’t afraid to ask hard questions, but not all of them are willing to put themselves in a perilous situation.

War correspondents tell an important story to the world by bringing words and pictures of the people whose lives are risked in battle. And in doing that, they put their own lives at risk. The deaths of reporters such a Marquette graduate James Foley and others in the Middle East drive that point home.

Well before the current set of dangers, Shorewood native Georgette "Dickey" Chapelle was one of the pioneers of war photography. She chronicled American troops in World War II, relief efforts in Europe, and some of the earliest American conflicts in Vietnam, where she ultimately lost her life fifty years ago today. 

A collection of her work has just been published. Author John Garofolo complied the pictures and wrote the text that accompanies them. 

Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action showcases not only her work, but Chapelle's personal work ethic. "Dickey was a model of persistence because during the course of her career, it didn't come easy. She really had to work very, very hard consistently from the very beginning of it to the very end," says Garofolo.

Being a female photographer created extra hurdles for Dickey to overcome, from travel limitations without a spouse, field access, assignments and even getting her credentials stripped after an assignment in Japan.

Yet her determination to capture war was not because she was a patriot. She wanted to depict both sides of war - from the dangers of combat to how civilians were affected.

"She wasn’t taking pictures for the sake of taking pictures. She really did have a purpose. And her purpose was essentially to show how terrible war is. Maybe with the expectation that if people saw how terrible it was, maybe we would stop doing that," explains Garofolo.

Unfortunately, and perhaps ironically, Chapelle died in Vietnam from her wounds after she was hit by shrapnel, and became the very first female war photographer to die in the field. Garofolo wants readers to see beyond her work in war torn places of the world and see the amazing person she was.

"If you take a look through her life and her history there are some really amazing moments and I think there are life lessons for everyone," he says. "She's representative of something that's bigger than just being a photographer or a war correspondent."

John Garofolo is the author of Dickey Chapelle Under Fire,  and will be talking about Chapelle’s work Thursday evening at the Shorewood Village Center.

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.