This Week's Book Review - First to the Front: The Untold Story of Dickey Chapelle

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

A Pioneering Woman Photojournalist

Reviewed by Mark Lardas
July 23, 2023

“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)

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 many 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.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is