Catherine Leroy (August 27, 1944 - July 8, 2006) was a French-born photojournalist and war photographer, whose stark images of battle illustrated the story of the Vietnam War in the pages of Life magazine and other publications.
|Born||August 27, 1944|
|Died||July 8, 2006 (aged 61)|
Leroy was born in the suburbs of Paris on August 27, 1944. She attended a Catholic boarding school and, to impress her boyfriend, earned a parachutist's license at the age of 18. After being moved by images of war she had seen in Paris Match, she decided to travel to Vietnam to "give war a human face." At the age of 21 she booked a one-way ticket to Laos in 1966, with just one Leica M2 and $200 in her pocket.
A year later she became the first accredited journalist to participate in a combat parachute jump on February 23, 1967, joining the 173rd Airborne Brigade in Operation Junction City. She had her press credentials temporarily suspended after she swore at a Marine officer whom she felt was condescending in denying her request to jump shortly after Operation Junction City. Two weeks after documenting the battle for Hill 881 with her photography published in Life, she was wounded with a Marine unit near the demilitarized zone on May 19, 1967. Leroy would later credit a camera with saving her life by stopping some of the shrapnel. After convalescing for six weeks aboard USS Sanctuary, she returned to the field.
In 1968, during the Tet Offensive, Leroy was captured by the North Vietnamese Army. She managed to talk her way out and emerged as the first newsperson to take photographs of North Vietnamese Army Regulars behind their own lines. The subsequent story made the cover of Life.
When you look at war photographs, it's a silent moment of eternity. But for me, it is haunted by sound, a deafening sound. In Vietnam, most of the time it was extremely boring. Exhausting and boring. You walked for miles through rice paddies or jungle -- walking, crawling, in the most unbearable circumstances. And nothing was happening. And then suddenly all hell would break loose.— Catherine Leroy, "A window on the war", Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2002
Her most famous photograph, Corpsman In Anguish, (1967) at the Wayback Machine (archived December 3, 2007) was one of three taken in quick succession portraying U.S. Navy Corpsman Vernon Wike. In the pictures the sailor is crouched in tall grass during the battle for Hill 881 near Khe Sanh. He is cradling his comrade who has been shot while smoke from the battle rises into the air behind them. In the first frame Wike has two hands on his friend's chest, trying to staunch the wound. In the second, he is trying to find a heartbeat. In the third frame, "Corpsman In Anguish", he has just realised the man is dead.
Leroy returned to Paris from Vietnam in 1969 and covered conflicts in several countries, including Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Lebanon. After her experiences in Beirut she swore off war coverage.
Leroy originally sold her work to United Press International and The Associated Press, and later worked for Sipa Press and Gamma. In 1972, Leroy shot and directed Operation Last Patrol, a film about Ron Kovic and the anti-war Vietnam veterans. Leroy co-authored the book God Cried, about the siege of West Beirut by the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon War.
She lived in the Hotel Chelsea in the late 1980s. Later in life, she founded and ran a vintage clothing store, Piece Unique, with a website. Piece Unique also hosted an online gallery of images from the Vietnam War, entitled "Under Fire: Images From Vietnam".
Leroy won numerous awards for her work, including in 1967 the George Polk Awards, Picture of the Year, The Sigma Delta Chi, and The Art Director's Club of New York. She was the first woman to receive the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award – "best published photographic reporting from abroad requiring exceptional courage and enterprise" – for her coverage of the civil war in Lebanon, in 1976. In 1997, she was the recipient of an Honor Award for Distinguished Service in Journalism from the University of Missouri.
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