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Ray "Rock" Hanson, WIU Featured in Latest Issue of U.S. Marine Corps Magazine

January 16, 2002

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MACOMB, IL -- A 1994 Western Illinois University graduate and member of the U.S. Marine Corps has brought new fame to WIU's legendary coach Ray "Rock" Hanson and the WIU Leathernecks.

First Lieutenant James Richards, a communications officer assigned to Marine Wing Support Squadron 274, has penned the story "Ray Hanson: Fighting Leatherneck and Football Legend" in this month's issue of the U.S. Marine Corps' "The Leatherneck" magazine. According to an editor's note at the start of the article, the story was first intended to address the significance of the only nonmilitary institution granted permission through an act of Congress to have its nickname attributed to a branch of the military service. However, in researching the story, Richards discovered the life of a fascinating man, a hero and a leader, Ray "Rock" Hanson.

WIU is the only public school in the U.S. that has permission through the Department of the Navy to use the United States Marine Corps official seal and mascot (the bulldog) along with the nickname, The Fighting Leathernecks. Hanson's determination and persistence, along with his Marine legacy, helped secure The Fighting Leathernecks as WIU's team name. To this day, men's intercollegiate athletics are called The Fighting Leathernecks.

Richards' story begins with Hanson's childhood and quickly moves into his enlistment in the Marine Corps in 1916. He was assigned to a unit that would forever be a legend through Marine Corps history, the 96th Company, 1st Replacement Battalion, Sixth Regiment. Hanson survived the Battle of Belleau Wood, where 50 percent of the casualties were taken from grazing German machine-gun fire over an open wheat field. He was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism in saving the life of a fellow Marine who had been seriously wounded. Hanson went on to win a Silver Star citation for bravery, a French Croix de Guerre and a Purple Heart.

According to Richards' research, after the war, Hanson attended Springfield college in Massachusetts where he became friends with world-renowned Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. Hanson enrolled in a football fundamentals class with Rockne and studied under the legend. Following graduation it would be Rockne who helped Hanson secure his coaching position in 1926 at Western, then called Western Illinois State Teachers College. Hanson, who also served as athletic director and head of the physical education department, took the college to national stardom in football.

Now nicknamed "The Rock" for his determination and his disciplinary tactics, Hanson set out to do what might have been impossible for others. His goal was to make the Marine ethic a central focus at Western. The famed World War I hero was awarded permission by Congress in 1927 to use the Marines' official seal, the eagle, the globe and anchor emblem and the name "Leathernecks" as long as the college did not bring discredit to them. To this day, Western is the only state-funded school in the nation to enjoy this privilege.

Hanson went on to introduce the 10-second rule in basketball. He also took a commission and entered World War II as a Marine lieutenant colonel. Hanson returned to Western as director of athletics, retiring in 1964. He passed away Jan. 4, 1982 at the age of 86.

"The Leatherneck" can be viewed at Information about the WIU Fighting Leathernecks is available at

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Relations