ANDRE CAVARO LUCAS brought two strong military traditions to West Point, one American, the other French. His father was a career Army officer who commanded a company in the 26th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, during WWI. Andre served as an enlisted soldier in the same company before entering West Point. His mother insisted that Andre receive his secondary education in her home town in France, where he was imbued with the glories of French military prowess during the Napoleonic wars. At West Point, his mother was thrilled to watch the Corps of Cadets march to the music “Sombre et Meuse.” For Andre, being a professional army officer was preordained. He never considered any other path.
Late in his Third Class year, Andre met his future wife, Madeleine Miller, fluent in French and of Swiss-French parentage. A strong personality, Madeleine gave him two sons and unflinching support for the rest of his life. The Lucases were famous for their hospitality, good wine and cuisine, and hilarious parties. Never ordinary people, they lived with energy and wonderful imagination. Their two sons, John and William, added to the excitement that always surrounded their home.
Andre attended Infantry, Airborne, and Ranger Schools and served as an armored infantry platoon leader in Munich, Germany, and a leader of a Special Forces A Team in the 10th Special Forces Group at Bad Toelz, Germany. He returned to the States in 1958 for duty at Ranger School at Eglin AFB in Florida for a year. He then became the aide to the deputy commanding general of Ft. Benning. Next, Andre completed the Infantry Offi cers Advanced Course and served as a tactical offi cer at West Point before going to Viet Nam. There, Andre advised a Vietnamese battalion, earning the first of two Silver Stars. He also prompted combat operational innovations. Surrounded by Viet Cong forces, Lucas radioed to a flight of U.S. helicopters passing overhead. He persuaded the crews to fi re small arms at the besieging Viet Cong forces. This improvised attack, apparently the fi rst of its kind, caused the Viet Cong to withdraw. The episode proved catalytic for the rapid development of helicopter gunships.
Upon return to the States, Andre completed CGSC at Ft. Leavenworth and the French War College in Paris and then served for one and half years on the staff of the European Command in Paris. When de Gaulle expelled U.S. forces from France, Andre served six more months at the command’s new location in Stuttgart, Germany. Next, he commanded the 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment in Germany, and then he returned to Ft. Riley to serve as the G-3 of the 24th Infantry Division. There he made a fateful decision.
Twice promoted ahead of his year group, Andre was one of the most promising Infantry officers in the Army. A decorated combat veteran, he was not slated to return to Viet Nam, but believed that, as a professional officer, he had a duty to command a battalion in combat. Thus, Andre volunteered in the fall of 1969. His clairvoyant wife begged him to go a month later or a month earlier, but not in October. He paid no heed. While commanding the “Currahees” battalion of the 506th Infantry in the 101st Airmobile Division, his battalion was surrounded by a much larger North Vietnamese regular force and fought for three weeks before Andre was allowed to evacuate his unit. Preparing to depart the fire base on the last helicopter out, Andre was hit by rocket fire and lost a leg. He died on 23 July 1970 on Fire Base Ripcord.
The Battle of Ripcord was the last large-scale combat involving U.S. forces in Vietnam. Whether or not his battalion should have been deployed on Ripcord was controversial, but that ambiguity did not weaken Andre’s sense of duty in the face of what he must have known was an ill-fated mission.
It is a painful irony that he brought the American and French military traditions to Viet Nam, the very place where they had been tragically intertwined in the early 1950s. True to both traditions, Andre’s repeated bravery during three weeks of sustained close combat was remarkable. For his actions, he received the Medal of Honor, the only member of the Class of 1954 so honored. A number of other honors have also come his way. In 1993, Andre was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame at Ft. Lewis, WA. At Ft. Campbell, KY, a computerized training field and a state-of-the-art elementary school were named for him. At West Point, the Class of ’54 has established the Andre Lucas Military Heritage Center as the class’s 50th reunion gift to the Military Academy.
In addition to his wife Madeleine and his two sons, John and William, Andre is survived by John’s two sons, Andre Cavaro Lucas II and Ian Lucas.
— William E. Odom ’54