From time immemorial, the only way a woman in France could attain the title of Madame la Générale was to marry one. Today there is a real female general in her own right. She is Valérie André, 54, a surgeon, pilot and former army colonel who was recently awarded two stars—the first among the 10,000 women in France’s armed forces to achieve such an honor. (The first U.S. women generals were Elizabeth Hoisington and Anna Hays, appointed in 1970.)
When the Council of Ministers, presided over by President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, promoted Colonel André, there was no doubt about her qualifications. She joined the army in 1948, serving in Indochina, first as head
doctor in a Saigon infirmary and later in Tonkin. After she had obtained her helicopter license (the first French woman to do so), she flew on 150 evacuations, 496 combat missions and made 21 parachute jumps.
For heroism there, and later in Algeria, she was decorated with the Croix de Guerre and the Légion d’Honneur. Perhaps her most demanding assignment came in 1957. André was called upon to rescue her husband after his helicopter had crashed in the Chamonix Valley. Madame Santini, as she is called in civilian life, piloted the rescue helicopter to the glacier crash site. The mission was a success, and her husband, now a retired air force colonel, survived.