(Photo Above: Famed Vietnam war photographer, Cathy Leroy, left, talks with Rep. Fred Schwengel (R-Iowa), and Jacqueline Day of Des Moines, Iowa, at San Francisco International Airport, Nov. 16, 1967, before embarking aboard Pan American Airways jet for Saigon. Mrs. Day will have Thanksgiving Day dinner with her son Marine Cpl. Tim Day at DaNang. Miss Leroy is returning to Vietnam after a month's leave. (AP Photo/Sal Veder))
When the war in Vietnam broke out, the press was quick to point out how seamless and efficient American operations were. Magazines like Life and others attempted to paint a picture for the public that was very different from what soldiers saw on the battlefield.
Catherine Leroy was moved by the images of the war she had seen and decided to travel to South Vietnam on her own to give the war a “human face.” She was only 21 at the time and had $200 to her name. []
Catherine Leroy, 22-year-old, 88-pound French freelance photographer and skydiver, is assisted into her parachute harness before jumping into action with the 173rd Airborne brigade in Vietnam, Feb. 23, 1967. The 173rd spearheaded the drive by some 45,000 combat troops in War Zone C, near the Cambodian border, in the biggest offensive of the war. It was the first U.S. combat jump in Vietnam. (AP Photo)
This Book Is More Than a Decade in the Making
After releasing a novel, Ferrell’s publisher wouldn’t take a second book. She kept working on books and stories, but found that companies would rather publish “a new angle on George Washington than a book on an unknown person.”
During that time, a family member asked her to read a paper she’d written on American military nurses captured by Japan during the second world war. That’s when Ferrell had a light bulb moment. “I couldn’t believe I had never heard of these women,” she told the Spokesman-Review. []
She took the book to her agent, who loved the idea of writing about women whose names we do not know. “It was like opening a floodgate of incredible.”
The foundation that currently owns the right to Catherine Leroy’s photos allowed Ferrell to use many of the photographer’s images in the book. She hopes that publishing it now teaches young people two specific lessons.
First, it is possible to be “crazy successful” at a very young age, in a short time, when you want something and work hard to get it. Although Leroy had lots of natural talent, she wouldn’t have found success in a male-dominated industry at that time without exhibiting true guts and courage.
And secondly, there needs to be a belief in oneself. Even when everyone else says you don’t have a great idea or that you might fail, those voices don’t matter. What is the voice inside your head telling you to do?
Some of the most significant accomplishments in human history have happened because one person was willing to say that a different way could be better.
Unbiased Journalism Declares the Truth to All Readers
The victors often write history. People who disagree are usually sent to the shadows, events twisted to turn antagonists into protagonists, and outright lies are delivered as truth.
We have seen this happen throughout the past centuries with alarming frequency.
That’s why stories like Catherine Leroy’s are so important to have in our conversations today. This young woman was willing to sacrifice her life to take pictures in Vietnam so that the world could see the truth.
“You can hold that up to someone who gets on a talk show and pontificates, and you can see that there is a very large difference,” said Ferrell. “There’s no comparison in my mind between those two things. I hope this book will help young people get clarity on that.”
Catherine Leroy’s final significant Vietnam photo essay was called “This is That War.” It was published by Look on May 14, 1968. In that issue, the editors changed their policies and decided to denounce the war.
That’s the power of the truth. We cannot forget that facts are not opinions.
Later in life, Leroy founded a vintage clothing store which hosted an online gallery of some of her images from the Vietnam War. She won numerous awards for her work, including being the first woman to earn the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award. []
French freelance photographer Catherine Leroy talks with Lt. Robert Brown on May 28, 1967, 23, of New York’s Staten Island from hospital bed aboard hospital ships USS Sanctuary in South China sea off Vietnamese coast. Both were wounded by same North Vietnamese mortar blast on May 19. She was photographing U.S. Marines moving toward the demilitarized zone at the time. Brown was first man to reach Catherine, and despite his own arm wound, gave her first aid and brought her out of the battlefield. She suffered multiple shrapnel wounds and a fractured jaw. (AP Photo)
Ferrell’s book Close-Up on War: The Story of Pioneering Photojournalist Catherine Leroy is available for sale at all major in-person and online bookstores.
[] https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/catherine-leroy?all/all/all/all/0 ; [] https://www.marycronkfarrell.net; []https://www.spokesman.com/stories/2022/apr/06/local-journalist-turned-author-developed-her-love-/; []https://web.archive.org/web/20100113143730/http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2006/07/leroy.html