Chapelle was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and attended Shorewood High School. By the age of sixteen, she was attending aeronautical design classes at MIT. She soon returned home, where she worked at a local airfield, hoping to learn to pilot airplanes instead of designing them. However, when her mother learned that she was also having an affair with one of the pilots, Chapelle was forced to live with her grandparents in Coral Gables, Florida. There, she wrote press releases for an air show, which led to an assignment in Havana, Cuba.
A story on a Cuban air show disaster that Chapelle submitted to the New York Times got her noticed by an editor at Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA), which prompted her to move to New York City. Working at the TWA publicity bureau, she began to take weekly photography classes with Tony Chapelle, who became her husband in October 1940. She eventually quit her job at TWA to compile a portfolio, which she sold to Look magazine in 1941. Later, after fifteen years of marriage, divorced Tony, and changed her first name to Dickey.
After the war, she traveled all around the world, often going to extraordinary lengths to cover a story in any war zone. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Chapelle was captured and jailed for over seven weeks. She later learned to jump with paratroopers, and usually travelled with troops. This led to frequent awards, and earned the respect of both the military and journalistic community. Chapelle "was a tiny woman known for her refusal to kowtow to authority and her signature uniform: fatigues, an Australian bush hat, dramatic Harlequin glasses, and pearl earrings."
Despite early support for Fidel Castro, Chapelle was an outspoken anti-Communist, and loudly expressed these views at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Her stories in the early 1960s extolled the American military advisors who were already fighting and dying in South Vietnam, and the Sea Swallows, the anticommunist militia led by Father Nguyen Lac Hoa. Chapelle was killed in Vietnam on November 4, 1965 while on patrol with a Marine platoon during Operation Black Ferret, a search and destroy operation 16km south of Chu Lai, Quang Ngai Province, I Corps. The lieutenant in front of her kicked a tripwire boobytrap, consisting of a mortar shell with a hand grenade attached to the top of it. Chapelle was hit in the neck by a piece of shrapnel which severed her carotid artery, and she died soon afterwards. Her last moments were captured in a photograph by Henri Huet. Her body was repatriated with an honor guard consisting of six Marines, and she was given full Marine burial. She became the first female war correspondent to be killed in Vietnam, as well as the first American female reporter to be killed in action.
Overseas Press Club's George Polk Award for best reporting in any medium, requiring exceptional courage and enterprise abroad.
In 1966, a memorial was put near the site of her death, with a plaque with the message: "She was one of us and we will miss her."
Chapelle is one of the women featured in the documentary filmNo Job for a Woman: The Women Who Fought to Report WWII (2011).
The Milwaukee Press Club inducted Chapelle into their Hall of Fame in October 2014.
In 2015, Milwaukee PBS produced a documentary about her titled Behind the Pearl Earrings: The Story of Dickey Chapelle, Combat Photojournalist.
The Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association posthumously awarded her The Brigadier General Robert L. Denig Sr. Memorial Distinguished Service Award (DSA) in August 2015.
In 2017, Chapelle was declared an honorary Marine at the Marine Corps Combat Correspondents Association's annual dinner.
Chapelle, Dickey (1942). Needed - Women in Government Service. R. M. McBride.
Chapelle, Dickey (1943). Girls at Work in Aviation. Doubleday, Doran.
Chapelle, Dickey (1944). How Planes Get There. Young America's aviation library. Harper.
Chapelle, Dickey (1962). What's a Woman Doing Here?: A Reporter's Report on Herself. Young America's aviation library. New York: Morrow.
Chapelle, Dickey (1962). "How Castro Won". In Osanka, Franklin Mark; Eluntington, Samuel P. Modern Guerrilla WarFare: Fighting Communist Guerrilla Movements: 1941-1961. New York: Free Press of Glencoe. pp.325–335.
1 2 Garofolo, John (2015). Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action. Madison, Wisconsin: Wisconsin Historical Society Press. p.2. ISBN9780870207181.
1 2 Ostroff, Roberta (February 11, 1992). Fire in the Wind: The Biography of Dickey Chapelle. Ballantine Books. ISBN0-345-36274-8.