Writing Life

Girls Who Wear Pearls

Mom always said, “A girl should never be without pearls.” Mom was right. Pearls are grounded and classic, a reminder of a girl’s dignity and gender. Nobody knew this better than Dickey Chapelle, a pioneer female photojournalist and war correspondent who followed the troops into war zones, foxholes, and front lines during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. You never saw Dickey without her trademark Leica camera, and wearing her everpresent anti-combat-ready pearl stud earrings.

Several years ago, I stumbled across a documentary about Dickey Chapelle while flipping through the TV channels in a motel room. Totally enchanted by her story, I jumped on Amazon.com and found a biography about her, Fire in the Wind: The Life of Dickey Chapelle, a great read by Roberta Ostroff. As a biographer myself, I was impressed by this seriously researched and well-crafted life story of a fascinating character and female pioneer journalist. After Dickey fought her way into military war zones before women did that sort of thing, she exercised her craft with precision and compassion. When she was captured and imprisoned during the Hungarian revolution, she dealt with it. Dickey was no angel, but she was courageous and dedicated, and would do just about anything for a story. She met her end in 1965, the first war correspondent killed in Viet Nam, when she stepped on a land mine. At age 46, she was also the first American woman reporter killed in action.

During Women’s History Month in March, I am wearing pearl stud earrings in honor of Dickey Chapelle. The truth is that I wear them often anyway. They go with everything, and after all, Mom said that is the way to go. My camera is a Panasonic Lumix … no surprise that it has a Leica lens.

Happy Women’s History Month! — Joyce