By Sean Tuohy
Dickey Chapelle's normal attire was military fatigues, a bush hat, a pair of glasses, and a set of pearl earrings. Chapelle was part G.J. Joe, part photojournalist, and an all-around badass who sent the boys packin'.
Chapelle was born Georgette Louise Meyer in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1919, and lived a normal Midwestern girl life right up until she graduated high school first in her class and won an aeronautical engineering scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the age of 16. It’s totally normal that a teenage girl would head off to one of the best colleges in the nation to design airplanes during that era of U.S. history.
Well, like most badasses, Chapelle found the classroom to be boring, so she returned home and got a job at a local airfield. She preferred learning to fly planes than learning how to design them. Keep in mind that women had just gotten the right to vote in the U.S. a year after Chapelle was born. Also, Amelia Earhart was just learning basic flying skills and this girl from mid-America was hot on her coat tails.
Earhart caught a break when it was discovered that our heroine was having an affair with a fellow pilot. We're not sure what affair meant in the 1930's, but we assume that Chapelle once held eye contact for more than 10 seconds with a male pilot. Besides, even if she did it, badasses are meant to break rules, and what’s the point of breaking rules if you’re not going to have wild sex with your hot male counterpart who happens to fly planes for a living.
Anyway, Chapelle was shipped off to Florida for a while, but then moved to New York City where she took evening photograph classes with Tony Chapelle. As you can probably guess, she ended up marrying him and taking his name. When World War II broke out, Chapelle adopted the first name Dickey, after one of her favorite explorers, and landed a job at National Geographic despite having nearly no experience as a photographer.
Her first assignment was nothing special. The magazine sent her to the Pacific theater with U.S. Marines. Wait, what? Yup, Chapelle spent a good chunk of World War II in the middle of some of the heaviest fighting. She witnessed the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. She just dug herself in with the fighting men and never missed a thing.
After the war, Chapelle did was any normal person would do once the returned home. She went right back out looking for more crazy dangerous stuff to do! Up until her death in 1965, she trotted around the world snapping pictures of war zones and was known to go to extraordinary lengths to cover a story. For example, Chapelle was thrown in jail at one point and trained with paratroopers learning how to jump out of a plane. Here at Writer's Bone it takes two bottles of cheap whiskey to just make it to the airport, while Chapelle probably didn’t even blink learning to jump out of them. Because of her badass style, Chapelle earned the respect of both the military and reporting world.
When the U.S. began sending troops to Vietnam, Chapelle went with them. Unlike other reporters who did not travel with the troops, Chapelle traveled with soldiers out on missions. Sadly, it was during one of these trips that she was struck by a piece of shrapnel and was killed. She was the first female war correspondent to be killed in Vietnam and the first American female reporter to be killed in action.
Dickey Chapalle was the female version of an ass-kicking Jimmy Olsen. She was three shades of tough with a winning smile and a determination to capture a moment precisely and honestly. We salute her all-around badassery by bestowing her with this week’s badass writer of the week award.