André, Valerie (1922—)
André, Valerie (1922—)
Military physician and the first French woman to achieve the rank of general. Name variations: Andre. Born Valerie Marie André in Strasbourg, France, on April 21, 1922; daughter of Philibert André (a professor at the Strasbourg Lycée); married Alexis Santini, in 1963.
After receiving a medical doctorate, served in Vietnam; became a helicopter pilot and flew over 150 medical missions; named commanding officer of helicopter pilots at the Gialam air base in Tonkin province; became a lieutenant-colonel in the Medical Corps (1965); achieved rank of colonel (1970); achieved rank of Médecin général (1976), thus becoming a general officer—the first female general in the history of France; received equivalency of the rank and prerogatives of a major general (1976); became a founding member of the French National Air and Space Academy (1983); received many awards.
Valerie Marie André was born in Strasbourg, France, on April 21, 1922, the daughter of Philibert André, a professor at the Strasbourg Lycée. With an early interest in medicine, Valerie André received a doctorate from the University of Paris Faculty of Medicine in 1948. In 1946, France had become embroiled in a bloody war with the Communist-led Vietminh nationalists whose goal was complete independence from European rule. In 1948, André joined the military and went to Vietnam at the rank of captain. Assigned to the hospital at My Tho, she was directly transferred to the staff of the French women's infirmary in Saigon. Her skills were quickly recognized, and she was soon working as an assistant neurosurgeon at the Coste Military Hospital.
In 1950, she received a commission as a helicopter pilot, and, in the next four years, she flew over 150 medical missions. These took place under dangerous combat conditions, including the months-long siege of the fortress at Dienbienphu. In 1952, she became commanding officer of helicopter pilots at the Gialam air base in Tonkin province. André left Vietnam in 1953 to serve as research physician at the Brétignysur-Orge aviation test center, a position she held for the next five years. In 1954, France was defeated and withdrew from Indochina.
By the late 1950s, the bloody colonial war escalated in Algeria, and Valerie André was once again actively involved in military operations, serving as medical chief of the 23rd Helicopter Squadron, as well as chief medical officer at the Reghaïa air base. When the Algerian war was also lost in 1962, André returned to France where she became medical commander at the Villacoublay base. In December 1963, she took time off from foreign colonial wars and married Alexis Santini, a fellow officer in the aviation service.
André's military career continued to flourish. In 1965, she became a lieutenant-colonel in the Medical Corps and in 1970 achieved the rank of colonel. In 1976, she was promoted to the rank of Médecin général, thus becoming a general officer—the first female general in the history of France. Further distinctions in the final years of Valerie André's distinguished military career included her promotion in 1976 to director of health services of the Fourth Air Region. In 1980–81, she also directed medical services of the Second Air Region and received the rank of physician inspector-general, which gave her the equivalency of the rank and prerogatives of a major general. In 1983, she became a founding member of the French National Air and Space Academy.
General André wrote several books, including her autobiographical Madame le Général (Madame General), published in 1988, which documents her colorful career. Her many awards and decorations include the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honor, the Grand Cross of the National Order of Merit, the Combat Cross, the Aeronautics Medal, the Gold Medal of the Aero Club of France, and the United States Legion of Merit.
André, Valerie. Physio-pathologie du parachutisme. Thesis, Université de Paris, 1948.
——. Ici, Ventilateur! Extraits d'un carnet de vol. Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1954.
——. Madame le Général. Paris: Librairie académique Perrin, 1988.
John Haag , Associate Professor of History, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia