Vietnam War Commemoration Commission

Week of November 5

On November 4, 1965, photojournalist Dickey Chapelle, one of the few woman journalists in Southeast Asia, accompanied a U.S. Marine platoon on a search-and-destroy patrol near Chu Lai, on South Vietnam’s north-central coast. Someone in the group inadvertently tripped an enemy landmine, and the resulting explosion of shrapnel wounded six of the Marines and mortally wounded Chapelle. She died in the medevac helicopter before it reached a hospital.

Dickey Chapelle had covered U.S. combat operations in the Pacific during World War II and had worked as a correspondent in Europe in the 1950s. One of the first woman war correspondents in American history, Chapelle went in with U.S. Marines during the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. After the war, she was assigned to Cold War Europe. In 1956, while in Soviet-controlled Hungary, she was arrested, interrogated, and imprisoned by Soviet forces. Chapelle spent almost two months in prison before being released. She also spent time in Cuba and Algeria in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962 she published an autobiography titled, What’s A Woman Doing Here? A Reporter’s Report on Herself.

She wasted no time when she got to Vietnam in 1961, becoming one of the first reporters, man or woman, to go along on combat operations. While working for several publications including the National Observer and Reader’s Digest, Chapelle hoped to convey to Americans back home what allied troops were going through on the battlefields of Southeast Asia. She once wrote to her editor, “I’ve so far walked almost 200 miles through head-high jungle and knee-high water with [the troops], been fired on from ambush and watched them return the fire . . . slept seventeen nights in the field and made six jumps into drop zones.” On the day she was killed, Chapelle was on patrol with the 2nd Platoon of F Company, Second Battalion, Third Marines.

Thousands of Americans, Vietnamese, and other foreign nationals covered the Vietnam War as journalists and photographers. Many---like Dickey Chapelle at Chu Lai and Joseph Galloway in the Ia Drang Valley---risked their lives to tell the stories of American servicemen and servicewomen. Dozens of them were killed in the war. After Chapelle’s death, the Marine Corps dedicated the Dickey Chapelle Memorial Hospital near Chu Lai in her honor.1

1Jack Shulimson and Charles M. Johnson, U.S. Marines in Vietnam: The Landing and the Buildup, 1965 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division, 1978), 94, 239; Mary S. Mander, Pen and Sword: American War Correspondents, 1898–1975 (Urbana, Ill.: Univ of Illinois Press, 2010), 90, 116, 141–42; Hilary S. Crew, Women Engaged in War in Literature for Youth (Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield), 115; Joyce Hoffman, On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam (Philadelphia: Perseus Books Group, 2008), 7–8, 56–59, 80, 96.

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