December 03, 2010

"The Hero of Berlin" General Lucius D. Clay, Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe

Lucius Dubignon Clay was born on April 23, 1897, in Marietta, Georgia. He graduated the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) in 1918 and began his professional career in the U.S. Army.  

In 1942, he was the Army’s youngest brigadier general. He became a deputy to General Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1945 and in 1946 he was the Deputy Governor of Germany in the Allied Military Government.

President Kennedy Introduces Gen. Clay in Berlin 1963

The idea of American radio broadcasting in Russian to the Soviet Union from Germany, rather than from the official Voice of America, was first broached by the U.S. State Department in August 1946. General Lucius D. Clay, then US Commander in Berlin, rejected the idea because it was not in keeping with the Four Powers Agreement covering Germany.  Instead, he focused on sustaining the German language radio station Radio in the American Sector (RIAS), for all Berlin and the Soviet military occupied Zone of Germany, which had started broadcasting in February that year. 

RIAS successful staff experiences, techniques, and programming became the model for the "surrogate home services" Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty. The overt US government radio station Voice of America began broadcasting in the Russian language in February 1947.

The years 1947-48 witnessed the completion of Soviet domination of East Europe, the Berlin airlift, the Marshall Plan, and the Iron Curtain. Eastern, Central, and Western Europe were physically divided by barbed wire, armed patrols, land mines and guard towers. The Communist Party monopoly and censorship of the domestic media effectively cut off and prevented the free flow of information to the peoples of East Europe and the USSR   U.S. Government officials, Congress, and the American corporate world decided to act in a secret private-government relationship to bring news and information to the “peoples of the captive nations.”

By 1949, General Lucius D. Clay was the Military Governor for the US Zone in Germany. On June 1, 1949, Frank Wisner, a prime mover for the creation of Radio Free Europe, met John McCloy, then State Department High Commissioner for Germany and then wrote a memorandum to his staff concerning that meeting:

Last night I talked for about forty-five minutes with Mr. McCloy... I mentioned in particular the conversations and exchange of communications, which I had with General Clay in regard to the radio broadcasting activity from Germany. In this connection I filled him in on the background and significance of the developments regarding the formation of the various refugee national committees and the New York Committee, pointing out that General Clay had said that he saw no problem in allowing duly authorized representatives of really responsible and broadly representative national committees of refugees to enter Germany and there to arrange for broadcasts.

Lucius D. Clay retired from the Army as a four-star general in May 1949 and became Executive Director of the Continental Can Company. He was under consideration to head National Committee for Free Europe’s fund raising arm, but he had not yet accepted the offer. DeWitt Poole wrote a to Alan Dulles, then Chairman of the NCFE Executive Committee asking for Dulles’ advice: “If you put the project before him as a characteristically American movement of a characteristically democratic type, I should think that he would find it warm-blooded, congenial and moving.“

At a Special Meeting of the NCFE Board of Directors held on January 19, 1950, Joseph Grew told the directors that General Lucius D. Clay had shown “a deep interest in all phases of the work of the National Committee for Free Europe” and that Clay would be moving to the New York City area. As a result of the unanimous resolution of the board, General Clay was then elected a member of the Board of Directors.

Grew gave a brief report on fund-raising for the NCFE and pointed out the desirability of setting up a “special committee” to organize and conduct that effort. After some discussion on the details, a committee was appointed to organize and conduct a nation-wide public fund-raising campaign to support the work of the National Committee for Free Europe. Clay, Allen Dulles, Arthur Page, Frank Altschul, and DeWitt Poole of the NCFE were appointed members constituting the fund-raising committee.

NCFE president DeWitt Poole sent a letter to Lucius D. Clay on February 23, 1950, in which he told him

We have envisaged the crusade as headed by a Chairman and Executive Committee. The Chairman of course is you.

It would be my idea that you become Chairman of the whole operation through being elected Chairman of the Executive Committee at its first meeting. 

On April 26, 1950, DeWitt C. Poole announced in a press release that General Lucius D. Clay had accepted the position of National Chairman of the Crusade for Freedom.

On May 1, 1950, the Crusade for Freedom’s Campaign Letter Number One was sent to the Regional Chairmen in the United States, under General Clay’s name, part of which read:

The long range, broad-gauge objectives of the Crusade for Freedom are to enlist several million Americans in a Crusade for Freedom and Friendship to put the lie to Kremlin propaganda that our goal is world domino and war to affirm our resolution that America is in the Crusade to stay.

The ideal of the Crusade for Freedom is to feed human souls.

For the coming years, Clay appeared to be omniscient and omnipresent in the news media concerning the Crusade for Freedom and Radio Free Europe. During his Labor Day speech on September 4, 1950, in which he announced the Crusade for Freedom, General Dwight D. Eisenhower paid tribute to General Clay: My great friend, General Lucius Clay, one of our outstanding Americans, is directing the Crusade for Freedom. Your contribution, great or small, will help him provide the means of bringing the truth to a region vital to America’s welfare.”

For some details of the first Crusade for Freedom campaign, see Origins of America’s Crusade for Freedom, 1950-1960.

On Tuesday night, October 23, 1951 at 9:30 p.m., television viewers tuned into the CBS network watched a 30 minute drama in the “Suspense” series that was entitled “The Train from Czechoslovakia” (See my posting Crashing Through the Iron Curtain with the Czech Freedom Train).

At the program’s mid break, Royce G. Martin, President of Auto-Lite, the sponsor of the program, and Lucius D. Clay, appeared on the television screen, with a copy of the 1951 Crusade for Freedom poster in the background. Martin introduced Clay, who began his appeal by saying:

Well, it was last year’s Crusade that built the powerful Munich radio station of Radio Free Europe.That is what the Crusade for Freedom is now doing, a voice which each day penetrates deeper through the Iron Curtain.


There was no mention of CIA funding for the Crusade for Freedom or Radio Free Europe.

Clay Resigns

On April 19, 1952, Lucius D. Clay resigned as National Chairman of the Crusade for Freedom. In his resignation letter to Admiral Miller, president of the National Committee for Free Europe, Lucius Clay wrote, in part:

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve in a cause devoted to the re-establishment of freedom in places where it has been lost. I am also grateful to have been associated with the hundreds of thousands American citizens who have joined the Crusade to indicate their desire to participate in this cause. However, I feel now that the Crusade can progress even more rapidly under new and fresh leadership. Thus, I would like to submit my resignation as Chairman to take effect immediately.

Also at the August 5, 1952, meeting, Lucius Clay’s resignation was reluctantly accepted by the board of directors, which then passed a resolution in gratitude of General Clay’s leadership:

WHEREAS, under his inspired leadership the Crusade for Freedom developed into a most important cause devoted to the re-establishment of freedom in places where it has been lost, and

WHEREAS, millions of Americans have joined in the moral and financial support of the Crusade for Freedom to indicate their desire to participate in the re-establishment of freedom where it has been denied....

BE IT RESOLVED: that the Board ... express to General Lucius D. Clay in behalf of millions of Americans as well as millions of enslaved peoples everywhere, their every sincere sentiment of gratitude and good wishes.

On January 28, 1953, Lucius Clay resigned from his positions as a member of the Board of Directors and as a corporate member: “While I have been honored to serve as a member of the Board of Directors and a Corporate member of the Crusade for Freedom, I have found that in the past year it has been increasingly difficult for me to give the time to this cause which it deserves. I therefore tender my resignation.”

On November 18, 1953, the Trustees of the American Heritage Foundation, including Lucius Clay, attended a meeting at the University Club in New York. During the meeting, Clay said, The Crusade apparently had gotten to be big business.” He thought that the Crusade for Freedom was getting away from its original objective. He was concerned that large funds from corporations might be hard to explain to people behind the Iron Curtain since the impression given so far was that individual Americans were the ones assisting Radio Free Europe. He wanted no publicity on the contributions from large corporations for that reason. This was basically turned down by other board members, as there was no control of publicity from large corporations, which were contributing to the Crusade or from keeping the contributions secret from their stockholders.

In 1968, Clay would become chairman of board of directors of Free Europe, Inc., the parent organization of Radio Free Europe, and would vigorously defend the institution against the attempts to shut it down in the early 1970s.

Lucius D. Clay died on April 16, 1978, and was buried at the West Point Military Cemetery.

For More information

Jean Edward SmithLucius D. Clay: An American Life, New York: Henry, Holt & Company, 1990.  Smith discusses his book at

Jean Edward SmithThe Papers Of General Lucius D. Clay, Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1974.

Oral History Interview with Lucius D. Clay, Harry S Truman Library and Museum,

The excerpt of General Clay speaking on televion is taken from the 1977 CBS television documentary film “When Television Was Young“, which can be viewed at

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