Retired Army general Lucius D. Clay, who died Sunday night of emphysema at the age of 80, was both an architect and embodiment of U.S. resistance to communism in Europe during the years following World War II.
Gen. Clay, who died at his home at Chatham, Mass., had been the American proconsul, the man on the spot, in the East-West confrontation over Germany that was dramatized by the Berlin Airlift. He was assigned there from the end of the war in 1945 until 1949, first as deputy military governor and then as governor of the U.S. zone of occupation.
Gen. Clay ordered the Berlin Airlift into operation in 1948. He was a key supporter of the West German "economic miracle," whose first stirrings generated the crisis of which the Airlift was a part. He emerged from these services as a hero both to the Americans and the Germans, who so recently had been enemies.
The events with which his name is most closely associated came to a climax with the Russian blockade of the western sectors of Berlin on June 24, 1948. All land communications with the city, which was entirely surrounded by Soviet-controlled territory, were blocked. Electricity was cut off. There was on hand for the two million inhabitants of what was shortly to become West Berlin no more than a 36-day supply of food and a 45-day supply of coal.
The Americans responded by provisioning the beleaguered city by air. The airlift was started on orders from Gen. Clay, who was commander of U.S. forces in Germany as well as military governor in Germany, on the day the blockade began. The effort was joined by the British and later by the French. The allies also set up a counter-blockade prohibiting the movement of goods from the West into the Soviet zone of Germany.
When the airlift reached full operation in the following months, a plane landed or took off from Templehof Airport in West Berlin every 90 seconds. Electronic equipment permitted operations to continue in foul weather and fair, night and day. By December 1948 the rate of supply had risen from 500 tons a day in June to 4,500 tons, or 500 tons a day more than the estimated minimum requirements. By May 1949, 8,000 tons were being delivered every day. The cargoes included coal and even a power plant, which was flown in piecemeal and assembled in West Berlin.
The Airlift thus ensured the survival of the city until, as the result of diplomatic negotiations, the blockade was lifted on May 23, 1949. The crisis having ended, Gen Clay retired from the Army and began a successful career in business.
His welcome back to this country was of the kind normally accorded military conquerors rather than administrators. There was a ticker-tape parade up Broadway in New York and a ceremony at the White House in which President Harry S. Truman pinned a second Oak Leaf Cluster to Gen. Clay's Distinguished Service Medal.
Then he went to Capitol Hill, where he addressed both the House and the Senate. On introducing him, House Speaker Sam Rayburn said: "An old friend has come home from his labors, which have been stupendous and great. His imprint will be left on world history."
Gen. Clay's firmness and his standing with the Germans were not forgotten. On Aug. 14, 1961, the East Germans erected the infamous Berlin Wall between the eastern and western sectors of the city. President John F. Kennedy asked Gen. Clay to accompany Lyndon B. Johnson, then vice president, to West Berlin to reassure the populace that the United States would stand firm. They received a tumultuous welcome during their brief stay.
In September 1961 Gen. Clay went back to Berlin as Kennedy's personal representative with the rank of ambassador. He remained there until May 1962 and then again returned to private life.
The wall that occassioned his assignment there was put up to stem the flow of refugees from the east to the west. Between the late 1940s and 1961, about 3 million people had left the Communist orbit by way of West Berlin. The erection of the wall came during a series of diplomatic clashes over Berlin extending from 1958 to the Cubab missile crisis in the autumn of 1962, in which the Soviets sought to oust the Western powers from the city. The Berlin issue has been quiescent since the missile crisis. The wall remains.
Gen. Clay spent more than 30 years in the Army. He also was a business executive and banker. He got involved in politics to the degree that he helped persuade Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president in 1952 and served for three years as the chairman of the Republic Finance Committee. And he was an adviser to four presidents on matters ranging from the domestic highway program to foreign aid. In 1962, he raised $1.9 million to ransom prisoners captured in the disastrous U.S.-backed attempt to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in 1961.
Lucius DuBignon Clay was born in Marietta, Ga. on April 23, 1897. One of his great-uncles was Henry Clay, the noted 19th century statesman and advocate of states' rights. His father was Alexander Stephen Clay, a U.S. senator. As a boy, Lucius Clay served as a page in the Senate.
He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1918, was commissioned in the Corps of Engineers and was assigned to training duties in this country. Other assignments took him to the Panama Canal Zone, the Philippines, where he served on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, and to various posts in this country. In 1938, he was district engineer officer at Denison, Tex., with responsibility for the design and construction of the Red River Dam.
In 1940, he was transferred to Washington as secretary of the airport approval board and assistant to the administrator of civil aeronautics. He organized a national airport system, saw to the improvement of 277 existing airports, and the construction of 197 new ones in the United States, Alaska and the Pacific Islands.
Shortly after the United States entered World War II in 1941, Gen. Clay was sent to Brazil on a special mission to establish airports there. Later, from July 1942 to October 1944 he was assistant chief of staff and then director of material at the headquarters of the Army Service Forces, responsible for the production and procurement of supplies for the largest armed force ever raised by the United States.
In November 1944, he saw his only service in a combat theater during the war. He took command of the Normandy supply base and expedited the flow of material through the port of Cherbourg, France. A month later, he was recalled to Washington and assigned to the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion.
In April 1945, on Gen. Eisenhower's recommendation, he was named deputy military governor of the U.S. occupation zone in Germany, where his commanding officer was Gen. Joseph T. McNarney, When the war in Europe ended in May 1945 their task was to help set up the zones of the four occupying powers in Germany - the United States, Britain, France and the Soviet Union. Apart from that, it was the policy of the allies to keep Germany in a weak economic and political condition lest there be a resurgence of German militarism.
Gen. Clay succeeded Gen. McNarney as military governor and commander of American forces in Germany and Europe in January 1947, when it became evident that the policy of holding back German economic recovery was unrealistic. The Communists took over Czechoslovakia in March 1948 and there were fears that they would succeed elsewhere as well. The Marshall Plan was brought into being to get Western Europe back on its feet and thereby strengthen its ability to resist the Communists.
Early in 1948, the Western allies decided to combine their zones in Germany. They also decided that the Germans should draw up a constitution for their zones and that the Germans should have limited self-government.
The Soviets were quick to oppose these decisions on the ground that a West German government could constitute an eventual military threat. A crisis began to build.
On April 1, the Soviets imposed a brief and partial blockade on land access to Berlin from the west. Gen. Clay ordered an airlift into operation.
On April 10, he spelled out his views in a teletype conversation with 1 Gen. Omar N. Bradley, then the Army chief of staff.
"Why are we in Europe? . . . If we mean we are to hold Europe against communism, we must not budge . . . If America does not know this, does not believe the issue is cast now, then it never will and communism will run rampant. I believe the future of democracy requires us to stay here until forced out. God knows this is not a heroic pose because there will be nothing heroic in having to take humiliation without retaliation."
In June, the currency was revalued in western Germany, another step in the Allied plan for western Germany's economic recovery that was opposed by the Soviets. On June 23, the new money was introduced in the western sectors of Berlin. The Soviet blockade began the following day.
On June 25, Gen. Clay told Secretary of the Army Kenneth Royall that "it seems important now to decide just how far we will go short of war to stay in Berlin . . . If Soviets go to war, it will not be because of Berlin currency issue but only because they believe this is the right time. In such case, they would use the currency issue as an excuse."
On July 20, Gen. Clay attended a meeting of the National Security Council in the White House. He told President Truman that the United States must stay in Berlin and proceed with its plans for Germany. He also recommended that an armed convoy be sent to Berlin and that the troops clear any obstacles put up by the Soviets.
Truman vetoed the convoy idea and ordered the expansion of the airlift over Air Force objections that this would leave the United States without transport planes elsewhere in the world.
The blockade and the airlift over it continued until the issue was finally resolved by secret negotiations carried on mainly by U.S. and Soviet representatives at the United Nations. Meanwhile, a parliamentary council in Bonn adopted a "fundamental law" that became the West German constitution. The currency reforms had been in effect for almost a year and the German economy was recovering rapidly. The Soviets had failed.
Gen. Clay said later that the blockade was "the stupidest move the Russians could make."
In 1950, Gen. Clay published two books, "Decision in Germany" and "Germany and the Fight for Freedom." In "Decision in Germany," he reiterated his view that the blockade should have been tested with a land convoy, declaring, "I shall always believe that the convoy would have reached Berlin."
Gen. Clay became chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the Continental Can Co. in 1950 and remained with the firm until 1962, when he reached the mandatory retirement age. He then became a partner in the Lehmann Brothers banking house, from which he retired about three years ago. He also served on the boards of several other firms.
In addition to three Distinguished Service Medals, Gen. Clay held the Bronze Star and the Legion of Merit. He was name an honorary citizen of West Berlin and a street there was named after him. He was an honorary Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire and received the Grand Cross First Class of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He twice was honored by the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Survivors include his wife, the former Marjorie McKeown, whom he married in 1918, of the home in Chatham, Mass.; two sons, retired Air Force general Lucius D. Jr., of Alexandria, and retired Army major general Frank B., of McLean, and seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.