GEN Lucius DuBignon Clay (1898-1978)


General Lucius DuBignon Clay

 

Lucius DuBignon Clay is from the Percival Clay branch of Clays. He obtain the highest rank of the modern day Army: four star General. 

General Clay was born on April 23, 1898 in Marietta, GA the sixth and youngest child of Alexander Stephens Clay, who served in the US Senate from 1897 until 1910. 

In 1914 he received an appointment to attend the US Military Academy at West Point, New York. He graduated with the Class of 1918 in June of that year with a commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army Corps of Engineers. He rose through the ranks rapidly holding various civil and military engineering posts during the 1920s and 1930s, including teaching civil and military engineering at West Point (1924 to 1928). He also directed the construction of dams and civilian airports from 1937 until 1941.  During the summer of 1941 Colonel Clay received order to General Douglas MacArthur’s staff. MacArthur soon saw his competence as a senior military office and in 1942 promoted him to the rank of brigadier general.  He became the youngest brigadier general in the US Army.

During World War II Clay did not see combat, but 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 and was promoted to the lieutenant general in April 1945. The following year, he was made Deputy Governor of Germany during the Allied Military Government. In March 1946 he was promoted to the rank of four star general and succeeded Eisenhower as military governor of occupied Germany as the head of the Office of Military Government, United States (OMGUS).

His administration of occupied Germany after World War II was stellar and his rise in rank to become the Commander-in-Chief of US Forces in Europe and the military governor of the US Zone in Germany from 1947 until 1949 is unmatched to this day.

He is best remembered for ordering and maintaining the Berlin airlift, necessitated by the Russian Blockade of West Berlin, Germany, which began on June 26, 1948 and ended on September 30, 1949. His actions kept the Allied sector of Berlin supplied with food, fuel, and other necessary materials. 

Regarded as a fair and just administrator, his responsibilities covered a wide spectrum of social issues related to Germany’s postwar recovery in addition to strictly military issues. He commissioned industrialist 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. He was responsible for the controversial commuting of some death sentences, including 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 Bergba, Thuringia slave labor camp in which 350 US soldiers, who were singled out for looking or sounding Jewish, were beaten, tortured, starved, and forced to work for the German government during World War II, and at least 70 US soldiers died in the camp or on a later forced “death march,” some by the hand of Metz himself. But releasing the offenders early had the intended effect of boosting German public opinion towards the US. 

He also reduced the sentence of Ilse Koch, the “Beast of Buchenwald,” who had been convicted of murder at Nuremberg and who had infamously (and inaccurately) been accused of having gloves and lampshades made from prisoners’ skin. The reductions in sentences were based on the hasty convictions of some Buchenwald personnel following the end of the war. The evidence was sometimes questionable and many witnesses claimed to have been beaten by Allied interrogators. In 1949, under the pressure of public opinion, Koch was re-arrested and tried before a West German court and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

General Clay retired from the US Army in May 1949 with 31 years of continuous military service. Among his military and foreign decorations and awards include the Distinguished Service Medal (with 2 oak leaf clusters), the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the World War I Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal, the Russian Order of Kutuzov, the Order of the British Empire, the Czechoslovakian Military Order of the White Lion, the Dutch Officer of the Military William Order, the Commander of the Legion of Honour and the Federal Republic of Germany Bundesverdienstkreuz (Grand Cross). 

In 1950, at Eisenhower’s request, Clay served as his emissary and as the national chairman of the Crusade for Freedom. On October 24, 1950 he dedicated the City of Berlin’s Bell of Freedom and Peace. Modelled on the “Liberty Bell,” the 10-ton “Bell of Freedom and Peace” arrived at Schöneberg Town Hall on October 21, 1950, having travelled from the United States via Bremerhaven and the military train station in Lichterfelde-West. Sixteen million Americans had donated money for the casting of the bell and signed a “declaration of freedom.” To this day and every day at noon, its chime serves as a reminder of the value of freedom.

In 1954 President Eisenhower requested Clay’s help to forge a plan for financing the proposed Interstate highway system. 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. 

From 1950 until 1978 he served on numerous foundations, corporations, and committees as an associate, board member, or in a similar position. He became chairman of the Continental Can Company and retired from that position in 1962 to become a Senior Partner in Lehman Brothers investment banking house until his retirement in 1973. 

He died at the age of 80. His son, Lucius Clay, Jr., became a four-star general in the US Air Force and his other son, Frank Butner Clay, became a major general in the US Army.

Lucius D. Clay Senior died on 16 April 16, 1978 (age 80) at Chatham Massachusetts.  He is buried in the U.S. Military Academy Post Cemetery at Section XVIII, Row G, Grave 079.

Lucius DuBignon Clay from the Percival Clay line. Following are three branches of the Percival Clay lineage.