Dickey Chapelle covered the battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa for National Geographic, and after smuggling aid to refugees fleeing Hungary, she spent almost two months in a Hungarian prison while covering the Hungarian uprising for LIFE. In the meantime, she learned to fly an airplane and jump with paratroopers.
She arrived in Vietnam in the early ’60s, and described her early experiences in her 1962 book “What’s a Woman Doing Here?” She returned to Vietnam later in May 1962, on an assignment for National Geographic, embedded with the helicopter units waging an aerial battle over Vietnam. Three Marines told her that she’d covered their fathers in Iwo Jima and Okinawa two decades earlier. “With a shock, I realized I was now covering my second generation of combat Marines—covering them, again, on embattled ground half a world away from home,” she wrote.
Her story “Helicopter War in Vietnam” was selected for the magazine’s November 1962 cover. The story included her photograph of South Vietnamese soldiers crowded around an American Marine holding a weapon at the door of a helicopter. This was the first ever published photograph showing that American ‘advisors’ were actively involved in the combat ops. (The National Geographic was very slow in their editorial and printing schedule. Chapelle’s May story only appeared for November issue. Later, Chapelle would complain to her editors that two weeklies scooped her on a story about the naval wars that she’d filed first).
On November 4, 1965, when on patrol with a Marine platoon, the soldier in front of Chapelle activated a boobytrap (a mortar shell with a hand grenade). The explosion hurled Chapelle off her feet, and a piece of shrapnel slit her carotid artery, wounding her mortally. (The Associated Press photographer Henri Huet took a photograph of Chapelle as she lay dying). Chapelle was the first female war correspondent to be killed in Vietnam, as well as the first American female reporter to be killed in action. Chapelle was so admired by the Marines with whom she was embedded that her body was repatriated with an honor guard of six Marines and was given full Marine burial.