The brilliant photos of the first American female war photographer killed in action

This was Dickey Chapelle’s favorite photograph of herself at work, taken in Milwaukee in 1958 by Marine Master Sgt. Lew Lowery, who also photographed the first American flag-raising on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima. (Dickey Chapelle/Wisconsin Historical Images)

On Dec. 6, 1956, after midnight, three figures methodically traversed a frost-encrusted field in Austria. Guided by a compass and saddled with a million dollars’ worth of penicillin, they were on a humanitarian mission to deliver aid to Hungarian refugees.

But the figure in the middle — at a diminutive 5 feet tall — had an additional purpose. It was the reason why she had stowed a Minox camera under her coat and wool shirt, stuck to her flesh by four bandages. The woman was Dickey Chapelle, a female photojournalist on assignment for Life magazine. Moments later the man in front of her muttered, “I’m lost,” and an enemy flare blew out the Big Dipper above. A machine gun and three rifles surrounded them, capturing her and one of her companions.

A retrospective of Dickey Chapelle’s work is featured in “Dickey Chapelle Under Fire: Photographs by the First American Female War Correspondent Killed in Action.” To see more photos from the Wisconsin Historical Images collection, click here.

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