A long overdue biography of the first American woman journalist to be killed in combat, Dickey Chapelle.
She reads like a total bada$$, from jumping out of planes to capturing what she saw (regardless of the powers that be).
At the same time, her interpretations of the United States' involvement in various conflicts could be proven wrong with time/hindsight; I appreciated where author Lorissa Rinehart pointed those instances out. Overall, it seems Rinehart really did her research. (I was confused by the WWII storyline - specifically its ending - but it seems like Dickey was confused by what happened too.)
"By every right, Dickey Chapelle should be a household name. Throughout her career, which spanned the length and breadth of the early Cold War, Dickey’s capacity to march beside fighting men regardless of creed or color made her insights singular. Her commitment to human rights, equality, and social justice made her reporting invaluable. The stories she brought back from the last days of World War II to the first days of the Vietnam War continue to shed new light on the evolution and history of the Cold War. Yet while she was alive, and after she died as the first American female journalist to be killed in combat, Dickey’s fellow journalists dismissed her uncomfortable relevance. They accused her of being obsessed with military life, of being overly consumed by her career, and of being incapable of objectivity. For decades their arrows stuck, relegating her to obscurity. But it was precisely the criticisms leveled against her that made her such an extraordinary reporter then, and such a relevant voice now."
--On Sunday February 18,  the lieutenant in charge of Navy press at the
Oakland air base agreed to see her. Eying her credentials once more, he handed them back.
“And just where was it you wanted to go,” he asked.
She had been rehearsing her response ever since her credentials first arrived in the mail.
“As far forward as you’ll let me,” she replied.
“Be here at 0600, tomorrow,” he said.--
--…good intentions have rarely paved such a direct route to hell.--
Back in World War II there was a small bit of graffiti that appeared in many places across the world. It showed a nose, the fingers of two hands and eyes peeking over a wall, or a fence, along with the words “Kilroy was here.” It was meant to show that American soldiers had been in a particular place, and that they had been everywhere. If Dickey Chapelle had wanted to, she could have left her graffiti across the world as well, not just to show that she had been there, but that she had been the first woman, the first reporter, the first woman reporter who had done the job in many, many dangerous places.
--She slept in Bedouin tents in the Algerian desert, and in the foxholes she dug herself in the hills overlooking Beirut. She rode in picket boats between battleships off the coast of Iwo Jima and flew in a nuclear-armed jet stationed on an aircraft carrier in the Aegean sea. On New Year’s Eve 1958, she patrolled the Soviet border with the Turkish infantry. On New Year’s Day 1959, she photographed Fidel Castro’s army as they entered Havana. She jumped out of planes over America, the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. She heard bullets flying over her head in Asia, North America, Europe, and Africa, and knew that they all sounded the same.--
It is likely you have heard of Margaret Bourke-White, famed for her coverage of World War II. You may have heard of Marguerite Higgins, noted for reporting on the Korean War. It is very unlikely you have heard of the subject of this book. Go on Wikipedia, or most other places that aggregate such information, and look up World War II correspondents. Chapelle, whose full name was Georgette Louise Marie Meyer Chapelle, is unlikely to appear. Yet, she did seminal work covering diverse elements of the war, including battles on the front lines. She even trained as a paratrooper, so she could jump into battle zones with American military units, which she did. Lorissa Rinehart seeks to correct that oversight.
She tracks Dickey from her brief stint as a student of aeronautical engineering at MIT. Soon after, she was a journalist in Florida, covering a tragic air show in Cuba. It was her first real reporting “at the front” of a deadly event. And the way ahead was set. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, she saw that war was coming with United States. Although Congress did not agree to declare war, it did ramp up production of airplanes and other war materials to support the effort against Nazism.
She learned that she would have to become a photographer if she wanted to cover the war. So she took photography classes. Among her teachers was the man she would marry, Anthony “Tony” Chapelle. Their relationship was never a natural. He was much older, controlling, with a temper, described by some as a consummate con man. He would be jealous of her successes, and seemingly always eager to undermine her confidence. But he was a very successful war photographer and taught her the skills that would enhance her natural eye, helping make her the great photojournalist she would become.
Rinehart tracks not only Chapelle’s adventures on the front lines of many military conflicts, but the skirmishes in which she was forced to engage to gain permission to be there at all. Sexism, as one would expect, forms a major portion of those struggles, but some had to do with her being a journalist at all, regardless of her gender. There is a string of firsts next to her name in the history of journalism, and the word “female” does not appear in all of them. Sadly, she was the first female correspondent killed in Viet Nam.
Dickey was tough as nails, enduring some of the same training as the GIs she was covering. In addition to her considerable coverage of World War II, she was on the front lines of the major hot spots in the Cold War. Not only embedded with marines, Chapelle spent considerable time with troops from Turkey, Castro’s rebels in Cuba, anti-Castro plotters in Florida, secret American forces in Laos, Laotian anti-communist fighters, Algerian revolutionaries, Hungarian rebels, and more. The list is substantial. She would keep diving in, wanting to get the immediate experience of the fighters, the civilians caught in the crossfire, the human impact of war. No Five o’clock Follies for Dickey. She was not interested in being a stenographer for brass talking points, seeing that approach as the enemy of truthful reporting.
Chapelle was captured, imprisoned, and tortured in Hungary by Soviet forces. It gave her a particularly pointed perspective on the treatment of prisoners by Western militaries, and the greater implications of the USA not holding to the highest international standards.
One of her greatest gifts was a respect for local cultures and particularly local fighters. She was quite aware of how hard they trained, how hard and far they pushed themselves, how much deprivation they willingly endured. Yet she encountered attitudes from American officers and leaders that regarded non-white fighters through a self-defeating racist lens. Chapelle tried to get the message across to those in command how wrong they were in their regard for the locals the USA was supposedly there to support. Despite occasionally breaking through the brain-truth barrier, that engagement proved a demoralizing, losing battle.
Another example of her analytical capability was fed by her time with a community in Laos, led by a cleric, possessed of superior tactical and political approaches. She tried to bring her knowledge of this to American military leaders. It was not a total failure. Although her ideas were not implemented to a meaningful extent, she was eventually brought in by the military to teach what she knew to new officers.
Through much of her work, which included extensive coverage of the on-the-ground Marshall Plan in Europe, her marriage to Tony was seemingly in constant crisis. It was an ongoing war, with dustups aplenty, advances and retreats, damage incurred, but resulted, ultimately, in a separation of forces, which freed Chapelle to pursue her front-line compulsion unimpeded by contrary wishes.
Her employers were not always news outlets. She was employed by the Red Cross to document the need for blood in the war zone. She covered a hospital ship, and medical units on the battlefield. It was hoped that her coverage would give a boost to a national blood drive encouraging Americans to give blood for wounded soldiers. It was a huge success. She worked for the American Friends Service Committee covering military behavior in the Dominican Republic. Other non-profits paid for her to report from other parts of the world. And sundry magazines provided enough employment to keep her working almost constantly.
This is an amazing book about an amazing woman.The story of Dickey Chapelle reads like fiction. Even though we know this is a biography, and that what is on the page has already occurred, Rinehart makes the story sing. Her story-telling skill brings us into the scenes of conflict, sometimes terror, so we tremble or gird along with her subject. She taps into the adventure of Dickey’s life, as well as the peril. This is the life that Dickey had sought, and which would be her undoing. The book reads like a novel, fast, exciting, eye-opening, frustrating, enraging, sad, but ultimately satisfying. Dickey Chapelle’s was a life that was as rich with stumbling blocks as it was with jobs well done, but ultimately it was a life well lived, offering concrete benefits to those who were exposed to her work, and an inspiration for many who have followed in her bootsteps.
--I side with prisoners against guards, enlisted men against officers, weakness against power.
Review posted – 10/6/23
Publication date – 7/11/23
I received a copy of First to the Front from St. Martin’s Press in return for a fair review. Thanks, folks.
Thank you NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for sending an eGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.
First to the Front is a story we can all benefit from reading about the great Dickey Chapelle. Three words that come to mind when I think back on this book are "trailblazing, strong, and perseverance." I think about the question, "If you could invite five people, dead or alive, to a dinner party, who would they be?" and realize I would probably now invite Dickey Chapelle as one of my five people.
As a former journalist, I absolutely loved reading about Dickey chasing down stories, her tenacity to find the truth, and her search for her true self within each journey she took. This book is not only educational about her life, but American history. It will challenge you to think about several different wars in a new way, including Vietnam and Korea. I learned a lot from this novel!
The only downside to this book was how long it took me to read it. I am typically finishing novels in less than a week's time when I am very invested, but this took me more than a month. There were some incredibly drawn out sections, and it made it hard to commit to reading this quickly. However, I finished this book feeling inspired and better understanding of a true pioneer of journalism, women along the "frontlines," and the importance of chasing your dreams.
How many war correspondents can you name? Okay, now for a even trickier question - How many female war correspondents can you name? If you can name any, it might all be due to the path Georgette "Dickey" Meyer Chapelle created for all who came after her. In First to the Front, Lorissa Rinehart seeks to tell the whole story of Dickey Chapelle.
Georgette "Dickey" Meyer was born and raised in Wisconsin, In 1935 she flunked out of MIT, and ended up in Coral Gables (FL) as the city editor for the Miami Airshow at $15 a week.She wrangled her way into an assignment for the New York Times covering the Havana Air Show. This led her to a job as assistant publicity chief for Howard Hughes's airline - TWA. There she met Anthony "Tony" Chapelle who was teaching photography. Dickey became a photojournalist after she married Tony. After December 7, 1941, Dickey Chapelle got a job with Look to cover the 14th Infantry Regiment training in the jungles of Panama. Then she got a break - she was accredited as a photographer in the Pacific Theater of Operations.. On board the USS Samaritan, she took photos of blood drive that the Red Cross used for a decade at blood drives. She also captured the faces and stories of soldiers and Marines loaded on board the hospital ship. She spent time on Iwo Jima and then Okinawa managing to endear herself to Marines while ticking off the higher brass who arrested her and revoked her credentials. Seventeen was the one magazine who would still employee her.
After the war, Dickey and Tony traveled around Europe for the Quakers bringing in supplies and photographing conditions in Poland, Yugoslavia, Germany, Austria, and France. After several trips through Europe, the duo made a sweep through Iraq, Iran and India for the US State Department's Point Four program documenting their work. Dickey managed to get articles in National Geographic, World Magazine and Reader's Digest along with the documentaries for the State Department. After finally divoracing Tony, Dickey returned to Europe to cover the Hungarian Revolution which lead to a stint in Hungarian prison. Next, she traveled to Algeria to cover the Algerian Liberation Front's fight against French colonialism. She covered Castro's fight with Batista in Cuba. Then she went to cover the conflict in Laos. She wrote a primer on guerrilla war for the Marines before covering the conflict in South Vietnam. She spent time with the Sea Swallows, Marines in helicopters, and the Vietnamese Marines. Then on November 2, 1965, while on patrol with U.S. Marines, a booby trap tripped by a Marine killed her. She died doing what she enjoyed most - taking photos.
The bare details given above does not cover the depth of detail that Lorissa Rinehart provides in this well-written biography of Dickey Chappelle, who that deserves far greater recognition than she has received. If you are interested in female journalists, especially photojournalists, First to the Front is a title to read!
A Pioneering Woman Photojournalist
Georgette “Dickey” Meyer Chappelle was a trailblazer. She was one of the first women to report on aviation. Later she became a pioneering photojournalist; the first woman war correspondent in the Pacific during World War II. She covered a slew of conflicts between 1946 and 1965.
“First to the Front: The Untold Story of Dickey Chapelle, Trailblazing Female War Correspondent,” by Lorissa Rinehart is the first comprehensive biography of this remarkable woman. Rinehart follows Chappelle’s life from her 1918 birth until her death in combat in 1965, covering US Marines in Vietnam.
A teenaged Georgette Meyer, then an MIT aeronautical engineering student, skipped class to cover a supply airlift to flood-isolated Worcester, Massachusetts. She got the story. Her displeased parents packed her off to grandparents in Coral Gables, Florida. Working for the Tenth Annual Miami Airshow she covered an air crash at a Havana airshow. From there she went to TWA, working in publicity.
This was, as Rinehart shows, the pattern Chappelle followed thereafter. She charged into opportunities, then considered “unladylike.” She learned photography during World War II (marrying her photography instructor, Tony Chapelle), bootstrapping that into a job as a photojournalist for National Geographic. From there, she covered the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, managing to get on the front lines at Okinawa. (Thereafter, the US Marines became “her” Marines.”)
She covered stories at the sharp end, initially with her husband; then alone. This included postwar Eastern Europe, Korea, Laos, Algiers, Cuba, and Vietnam. Imprisoned for six weeks during the 1956 Hungarian uprising, she embedded with Algerian and anti-Bautista separatists, and South Vietnamese soldiers, and jumped with US Army paratroopers.
Rinehart does an excellent job unpacking a complex individual. Chappelle, staunchly anticommunist, was equally pro-America. The Cubans she embedded with were not Communists (and purged by Castro when he gained power). Although she mistrusted Castro, he was hiding his Communist connections. She was critical of US nation-building, feeling that it was more about supporting convenient dictators than liberating people. Yet Chappelle adamantly supported the US military.
Chappelle was forgotten after her death accompanying “her Marines” during a combat patrol in Vietnam. Journalists and academia disliked her anticommunism. Many on the right thought she was too idealistic. Worse, her predictions about the ill consequences of US Vietnam policy came true. In “First to the Front” Rinehart does a first-rate job of revealing the real Dickey Chappelle, stripping away the myths about Chappelle.
“First to the Front: The Untold Story of Dickey Chapelle, Trailblazing Female War Correspondent,” by Lorissa Rinehart, St. Martin’s Press, July 2023, 400 pages, $32.00 (Hardcover), $15.99 (Ebook), $32.99 (audiobook)
This review was written by Mark Lardas, who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City, TX. His website is marklardas.com.
When I was asked to read First to the Front I said yes, then immediately regretted it because my TBR shelf was overflowing. It lingered on my list and I considered ignoring it. However, after reading The Women,by Kristin Hannah, I wanted to know more about women in combat zones. This book could not have been more timely. In fact, I'd recommend the two books as companion reads.
Clearly Dickey Chapelle was a real person and the narrative of her adventures was stunningly and at times unbelievably real. As a woman war correspondent in WWII, Vietnam and many other fronts, she was a fearless warrior, a trailblazer and truly a visionary. She captured the horrors of war in human terms and found humanity in the images.
This book is long and definitely full of details that some say should be edited. Maybe so. But a history buff will relish reading of her interactions with General Shepherd or fearless jeep drivers.
I found the book to be entirely readable and at times unputdownable. Dickey Chapelle is an American woman hero that we all should know about. I very much thank the author for her fine presentation of this story. I also thank NetGalley and St Martin's press for the ARC of First to the Front.
Thanks to the publisher for a physical copy of this book.
What a woman she was! I think all need to hear about her. She was brave and went after what she wanted and refused to back down.
Perhaps like most readers of this biography I had never heard about the great reporter Dicky Chapelle. The story of her life and her incredible career was fascinating to read. I think it would be interesting to know what sort of influence she had on future female journalists because she was definitely an incredibly courageous groundbreaker. When we learn early on in her career that the military heads restricted her access to reporting from certain combat sites because of her being a woman and the fact that women did not fight on the front line therefore they see not allowed to see the action up close,it made me think of how far we have come in our relationship with women and the armed forces and women as journalists. Dicky was really an extraordinary individual and with the clearest,thoughtful writing in this book we see how photographing the horror of the war was the ultimate goal of her life. I found it especially interesting to read how her views on war change after the Second World War and how she began to see the complicity of her own country in far too many devious incursions. Through the Dickey’s objective and passion is to document, first the way blood is used to save the wounded from the Second World War,and then up close all of the battles she witnessed from the Algerian war on. The writer evokes all of this in an exceptional,clear style that really places the reader in the forefront of the action. But an added nice touch we are told about the personal side to Dicky’svlife-her love for her family,her disaster our marriage and her loneliness she experiences for much of her latter life.
My only concern with this exceptional work of journalistic biography is that after a while there are too many details to absorb. I started to feel as if every single battle Dickie covered was explained in far too many details and a more general approach would have made the latter part of the reading more enjoyable.
Overall this is a monumental work about an extraordinary journalist who deserves to have her story widely told. The author has done an exceptional job at covering her subject material. A fascinating story about a fascinating essential historical figure.
As a woman veteran, I not only feel disappointed that I have never heard of Dickey Chappelle, I also feel deeply honored of being allowed to immerse myself into her life and service. An incredible individual whose risky actions and belief of uncovering the unknown or the forgotten, she is truly an inspiration and a true trailblazer. What an incredible life story and one that should be told to all.
Thank you so much NetGalley and SMP for the gifted copy!
First to the Front is a fascinating account of Dickey Chapelle's life as a wartime photojournalist. Her request when covering a war situation was, "Get me as close to the front as you can." Because this request was honored, she became the First journalist and the First woman to cover or photograph up close the battle front from WWII to Vietnam. She was also the first to ride in military helicopters or airplanes that no civilian had previously had access to. Why did she have such privileges? She earned that right by respecting the soldier and his story.
Besides learning more about Ms. Chapelle's perseverance, I learned more about WWII and specifically about Vietnam. I highly recommend this book.
Thank you #netgalley and #stmartinspress for an advanced copy of this book.
I really enjoyed this First to the Front. I learned so much about the story of Dickey Chapelle and the challenges she faced. The book beautifully captures Chapelle's unwavering courage and compassion, making it a moving tribute to both her and the countless unsung heroines of journalism. With eloquent prose and a poignant exploration of the horrors of war, "First to the Front" is an inspiring read that honors the resilience of women who defied societal norms. I highly recommend this book to anyone seeking a captivating tale of bravery, passion, and the relentless pursuit of truth in the face of adversity.
If you don't know who Dickey Chapelle is you should! She was one of the first female war correspondents during WWII and the Vietnam War. She traveled through Europe after WWII to show the effects of war, she traveled to Cuba, and Hungary where she was ultimately imprisoned as well as other countries, including the Vietnam War where she ultimately lost her life. She went out with different military units to show the human effects of war and during peacetime was sent out to cover the aftereffects of the war. She showed the human side of the conflicts that she was covering. She also stayed in an abusive marriage for years after finally breaking free of him.
I enjoyed reading her biography and learning more about her life and impact on journalism. I never heard of her before or her contributions to journalism. She was a fascinating, brave woman and I'm glad her story is finally coming to light.
An inspiring bio of one of the first female photojournalists, Dickey Chapelle, who covered events with fierce courage from WWII to Vietnam, where she died on assignment. A must-read for any journalist, seasoned or newbie.
Dickey Chapelle believed the best way to combat war, was to document it. A trailblazing female war photographer and photojournalist, Dickie Chapelle had front rows seats to the carnage of war from Vietnam to the Soviet Union and everything in between. Despite feeling trapped in an abusive relationship that she admits she stayed in too long, the strength shown on the front lines is inspiring.
Weaved within the biography of Dickey Chapelle is a wealth of history that kept me turning page after page. Lorissa Rinehart did a great job at balancing the facts while still leaving the heart of the woman she was writing about.
Dickey Chapelle's story will invigorate every reader to go after their dreams.
Thank you for the ARC!
I cannot wait for this to come in our next book order for our high school. Our journalism teacher requires students to research someone and I am always seeking more women to add to our collection. I was not familiar with Dickey Chappelle but I definitely recognized her photographs. Her story is one of perseverance and commitment to a cause.
The writing is well done and the length (which actually matters a lot when we are talking about high schoolers) was perfect.
Thanks for the ARC!
Wow! What a life! I have never heard of Dickey Chappell before but my husband had. He was a reporter for 35 years. But I digress.
Ms Chappell was a pioneer in many ways and not only because she was a woman in a male domineering business. She figured out ways to get to yes and move as far as the military would let her go in the sense of reporting on conflicts from Hungary to Cuba to Viet Nam and pints in between.
I learned not only about her life but also about wars that the US government did not want civilians to know about how they were being handled. Definitely not what I learned in school.
Great book club book.
Thank you NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Dickey Chappelle was a photojournalist traveling to some of the most dangerous wartime locations at a time when there were not many women reporting. She used intuition and a lot of persistence to get really good stories. Along the way she dealt with a toxic relationship with a man who I couldn’t wait for her to get away from. This is a fascinating account of a woman who I didn’t know anything about which proves that there are so many interesting books yet to be written about remarkable women.
Received from the publisher through NetGalley.
First to the Front by Lorissa Rinehart ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️💫
A big thank you to @netgalley and @stmartinspress for the ARC. Pub date is July 11.
Meticulously researched and logically organized, this book introduced me to my person from history who I’d like to have dinner with. Dickey Chapelle, the trailblazing journalist, was an extraordinary character. I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about her.
I oscillated between having too much information and loving all the information that was shared. That was the reason this wasn’t a full 5-star read. I did enjoy all the research but at times I felt like it could’ve been reduced or more focused.
All in all, I loved learning about a strong female’s journey covering WWII to Vietnam. To think someone was at the front of WWII, multiple world civil wars, and Vietnam is incredible, and the fact that someone was also a woman was inspiring. Check this book out and get to know Dickey Chapelle.
This is the wonderful story of the first female war correspondent, Dickey Chapelle. Dickey was a pioneer in this man's world. She pushed her way into the field, she broke ground, she shared stories no one else would tell. She went places that no one else would go. She worked on the Front Lines in WWI through Vietnam. She is a fascinating woman and this is a fascinating tale!
With heart and gumption, photojournalist Dickey Chapelle thrust herself into wars, revolutions and dangerous assignments. Often in places the men wouldn't go, she was the first of her kind. Happiest on the front lines, she drew connections with the military men she stood beside and did everything she could to advocate for them.
This was a well written and engaging book. Dickey was a real life heroine with an adventurous spirit and open heart. Reading about her life was fascinating. I found myself googling her photos and stories after finishing. Highly recommended!