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About Lucius Dubignon Clay
General Lucius Dubignon Clay (April 23, 1897 – April 16, 1978) was an American officer and military governor of the United States Army known for his administration of Germany immediately after World War II. Clay was deputy to General Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1945; deputy military governor, Germany (U.S.) 1946; commander in chief, U.S. Forces in Europe and military governor of the U.S. Zone, Germany, 1947–49. He retired in 1949. Clay is considered the "father" of the Berlin Airlift (1948–1949)
Clay was born in Marietta, Georgia, the sixth and last child of Alexander Stephens Clay, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1897 to 1910, but contrary to popular belief, this branch of the Clay family is not at all closely related to the famous statesman Henry Clay. Lucius Clay graduated from West Point in 1918 and held various civil and military engineering posts during the 1920s and 1930s, including teaching at West Point, directing the construction of dams and civilian airports, and by 1942 rising to the position of the youngest brigadier general in the Army. All the while he acquired a reputation for bringing order and operational efficiency out of chaos, and for being an exceptionally hard and disciplined worker, going long hours and refusing to even stop to eat during his workdays.
World War II
Clay did not see actual combat but was awarded the Legion of Merit in 1942, the Distinguished Service Medal in 1944, and received the Bronze Star for his action in stabilizing the French harbor of Cherbourg, critical to the flow of war materiel. In 1945 he served as deputy to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The following year, he was made Deputy Governor of Germany during the Allied Military Government.
He would later remark regarding the occupation directive guiding his and General Eisenhower's actions: "there was no doubt that JCS 1067 contemplated the Carthaginian peace which dominated our operations in Germany during the early months of occupation."
He heavily influenced United States Secretary of State James F. Byrnes' September 1946 speech in Stuttgart, Germany. The speech; "Restatement of Policy on Germany" marked the formal transition in American occupation policy away from the Morgenthau Plan of economic dismantlement to one of economic reconstruction. He also reduced the sentence of Ilse Koch, "the Beast of Buchenwald", who had been convicted of murder at Nuremberg and infamous for making gloves and lampshades from prisoners' skin. The reductions in sentences were based on the hasty convictions of some Buchenwald personnel following the end of the war; evidence was sometimes questionable and many witnesses claimed to have been beaten by Allied interrogators. Clay confirmed several death sentences as valid, commuted several and had some, including Ilse Koch, released after serving a reduced sentence due to questionable evidence. Under the pressure of public opinion Koch was re-arrested in 1949 and tried before a West German court and on 15 January 1951 was sentenced to life imprisonment. From 1947 to 1949, he was the Military Governor of the U.S. Occupation Zone in Germany, and in that capacity commissioned Lewis H. Brown to research and write "A Report on Germany," which served as a detailed recommendation for the reconstruction of post-war Germany, and served as a basis for the Marshall Plan. Clay was promoted to lieutenant general on 17 April 1945 and to general on 17 March 1947. During this time he hired noted American intellectual and former U.S. Army Captain, Melvin J. Lasky. Clay would be instrumental in the creation of the influential publication de: Der Monat.
On June 26, 1948, two days after the Soviets imposed the Berlin Blockade, Clay gave the order for the Berlin Airlift. This was an act of defiance against the Soviets, an incredible feat of logistics (at one point cargo planes landed at Tempelhof every four minutes, twenty four hours a day), a defining moment of the Cold War, and a demonstration of American support for the citizens of Berlin.
Clay is remembered as a hero for ordering and maintaining the airlift, which would ultimately last 324 days, through May 1949. He resigned his post days after the blockade was lifted.
After Clay retired from the military, he went into politics and served several presidents. One of his first duties as President Dwight D. Eisenhower's emissary, and as the national chairman of the Crusade for Freedom, was to dedicate the city of Berlin's Liberty Bell. In 1954, he was called upon by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to help forge a plan for financing the proposed Interstate highway system. He had previous experience in 1933 with managing and organizing projects under the New Deal, and later became one of Eisenhower's closest advisers. During the Berlin Wall crisis in 1961, President John F. Kennedy asked him to be an adviser and to go to Berlin and report on the situation. Two years later Clay accompanied Kennedy on his trip to Berlin. During his famous Ich bin ein Berliner-speech Kennedy said: "I am proud (...) to come here in the company of my fellow American, General Clay, who has been in this city during its great moments of crisis and will come again if ever needed."
Among many other honors, Clay was given a ticker-tape parade upon his return to the United States on May 19, 1949. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine three times. Clay also received an honorary doctorate of the Freie Universität Berlin and became an honorary citizen of Berlin (West) in 1953. One of the longest streets in West Berlin was named Clayallee in his honor, as was the Clay Headquarters Compound, which was located on the street. It held the headquarters of the Berlin Brigade, U.S. Army Berlin (USAB), and the U.S. Mission in Berlin. Marietta, Georgia named one of its major streets Clay Road, and South Cobb High School's football stadium is named "Clay Stadium" in honor of his work in creating what is now Dobbins Air Force Base there. While now called South Marietta Parkway (State Route 120 Loop), it still carries memorial signs at each end dedicating the highway to him. In 1978 a new U.S. Army base in Northern Germany near the city of Bremen was named for Clay and until the end of the Cold War housed a forward-stationed brigade of the 2nd Armored Division, the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Armored Division, which had been based at Fort Hood, TX with the rest of the 2AD. This unit was redesignated as the 2nd Armored Division (Forward). 2AD(FWD) saw action in the Gulf War of 1991 before being disbanded as part of the post-Cold War drawdown of the U.S. Army. Since October 1, 1993 these barracks are used by the Bundeswehr but are still named after Clay. The "General-Clay-March" by Heinz Mertins, was written in his honor.
Clay lies buried in West Point Cemetery. At his grave site is a stone plate from the citizens of Berlin that says: "Wir danken dem Bewahrer unserer Freiheit" (We thank the Preserver of our Freedom).
Clay was the father of two sons, both of whom became Generals. Clay's son, General Lucius D. Clay, Jr., held the positions of commander-in-chief of the North American Air Defense Command, the Continental Air Defense Command, and the United States element of NORAD, and was also a commander of the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Defense Command. Clay's other son, Major General Frank Butner Clay, served in conflicts from World War II through the Vietnam War, and was an adviser to the US delegation at the Paris peace talks which ended US involvement in the Vietnam War.
Clay was responsible for commuting the death sentences, among many others, for convicted Nazi war criminals Erwin Metz and his superior, Hauptmann Ludwig Merz, to only five years imprisonment (time served). Metz and Merz were commanders of the infamous Berga, Thuringia slave labor camp in which 350 U.S. soldiers were beaten, tortured, starved, and forced to work for the German government during World War II. The soldiers were singled out for looking or sounding Jewish. At least 70 U.S. soldiers died in the camp or on a later forced death march. This was due to the previously mentioned problems with questionable evidence in which some sentences were confirmed (upheld) and others commuted by General Clay.
Clay is also responsible for reducing the penal sentence imposed upon Ilse Koch, the so-called Beast of Buchenwald, to only four years. Infamous as the sadistic, cruel and murderous wife of Buchenwald commandant Karl Otto Koch, Ilse was sentenced in 1947 to life in prison for her well-documented crimes. Clay was not convinced that the most heinous of those crimes had been sufficiently proved in court, and therefore reduced her sentence virtually to time served. Immediately after being released in 1949 via Clay's drastic sentence reduction, Koch was re-arrested by the West German government, retried in a three-month trial that heard from 250 witnesses and re-sentenced to life in prison.
Awards and decorations