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This Day in Georgia History

April 23, 1898

Lucius D. Clay Born

Future U.S. Army general Lucius D. Clay was born in Marietta. Clay was the son of Georgia U.S. Senator Alexander Stephens Clay, who served in the Senate from 1896 until his death in 1910. After lying about his age, Clay entered West Point in 1915, graduating a year early in 1918. He was then assigned to the U.S. Army’s Corps of Engineers and sent them to Fort Belvoir for basic engineer officer training. During World War II, Clay was in charge of all military procurement. By the end of the war he was Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower’s deputy for military government. From 1945 to 1949, Clay served as military governor of the U.S. zone of occupied Germany. He distinguished himself with his fairness and administrative skills in rebuilding the war-torn country. In 1948, the Soviet Union closed the routes through East Germany to land-locked West Berlin, and in June Clay launched the Berlin Airlift (officially known as “Operation Vittles”). Joined by British planes, American fleets of C-47s and C-54s kept West Berlin supplied by air for almost a year. After the Soviet blockade ended in May 1949, Clay retired from the Army. The distinguished 4-star general was then courted for both political and business opportunities. In 1950, Clay joined the Continental Can Co. as CEO and chairman of the board. After his old boss, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, was elected president in 1952, Clay became one of the new president’s closest advisers. It was Clay who in 1954 urged Eisenhower to support an interstate highway system. Clay became senior and managing partner of Lehman Brothers until his retirement in 1973. After his death on April 16, 1978, Gen. Clay was buried with full military honors at West Point. On June 26, 1998, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp commemorating the 50th anniversary of Clay’s Berlin Airlift. Interestingly, the stamp also coincided with the 100th anniversary of his birth.