Born on February 11, 1924, at Hué, Vietnam, of an Annamese mother of Chinese origin and a French colonial civil servant, Jeannou Lacaze owes his first name to a registry office error. At a very tender age, he was repatriated to the Bordeaux region to join his father who had been called back to Metropolitan France.
Appalled by the June 1940 defeat, he decided very early to pursue a military career in order to serve the nation. Having been a member of a maquis group of resistance fighters, he was transferred in 1944 to the 78th Infantry Regiment, with the rank of senior officer cadet. He later on integrated Saint-Cyr and opted for the Foreign Legion where he proved to be an atypical, formidable, charismatic leader. In 1948, while serving in Indochina, where he hoped to see his mother again, he was seriously wounded. That notwithstanding, he volunteered to return to Indochina and served from 1949 to 1951, after which he served notably in Morocco and Algeria.
In 1969, as corps head of the 2nd Foreign Regiment of Parachutists (REP), he led the latter in the French intervention in Chad. Two years later, Jeannou Lacaze, who without any complexe admitted his resemblance with the actor Paul Meurisse, was made director of the "research" sector of the Foreign Documentation and Counter-Intelligence Service (SDECE), which became the External Security Head Office (DGSE) in 1982. He was the first secret services officer to be made general.
In 1978, the 2nd REP, part of the 11th Parachutists Division under his command, was designated by President Giscard d’Estaing to be dropped over Kolwezi, Zaire, in order to evacuate foreign citizens following the invasion of the town by former Katanga gendarmes.
Appointed Army Chief of Staff in 1981, he was maintained in his post after François Mitterrand was voted in as new French president. Caught by military retirement age in 1985, he was offered a post, specially created for him, of special adviser to the minister of Defence on military relations with African countries. Becoming member of the European Parliament, he served Europe in that capacity until 1994.
Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour and of the National Order of Merit, General Jeannou Lacaze is the author of the book "Le Président et le champignon" (1991), in which he expounds on his conception of French defence in a post-communism era.
General Jeannou Lacaze, former Army Chief of Staff, nicknamed the "Sphinx" for his legendary reserve and his enigmatic character, died on Monday, August 1, 2005, at the age of 81. His funeral religious ceremony took place on August 3, 2005, at the Saint-Louis des Invalides cathedral.
Information communicated by Union Nationale des Parachutistes (National Union of Parachutists) and translated freely by FNCV.