McRaven reflects on family ties to Murray State, decades of military service

MURRAY, Ky. — Murray State University welcomed Adm. William H. McRaven as the featured speaker for the 2020 Presidential Lecture Feb. 13 at historic Lovett Auditorium.

McRaven is a retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral and the former chancellor of the University of Texas system. During his time in the military, he commanded special operations forces at every level, eventually taking charge of the U.S. Special Operations Command. His career included combat during Desert Storm and both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He commanded the troops that captured Saddam Hussein and rescued Captain Richard Phillips. McRaven is also credited with leading the Osama bin Laden mission in 2011. 

McRaven is a recognized national authority on U.S. foreign policy and has advised Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and other U.S. leaders on defense issues. He currently serves on the boards of the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Football Foundation, the International Crisis Group and ConocoPhillips.

McRaven spoke of his late father, Claude “Mac” McRaven, `39, who was inducted into the Murray State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1975. As a collegian, Claude scored nine touchdowns while gaining Honorable Mention Little All-America honors, as well as selections on the All-Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association and All-Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference teams in 1938.

“Growing up, my father used to talk about Murray State like it was hallowed ground,” said McRaven during his first visit to his father’s alma mater. “But what Dad remembered most about Murray State growing up was that he had this love of education and when he retired, the first thing he did was get his master’s degree in education. 

“I talk about my father quite a bit because I like to think what my father learned here at Murray State was so much more than just athletics. He was a remarkable athlete; he had those skills when he got here, but I will tell you what Murray State taught him, was how to be a man. The lessons that he took away, he passed on to me.”

While a student athlete, Claude also captained and helped organize the school’s first track team. His specialties were the 100 and 220-yard runs. Following graduation, he joined the former Cleveland Rams — before they moved to Los Angeles — and was a two-year starting halfback before voluntarily joining the military. The military proved to be his liking as Claude flew combat missions in the North Africa, Sicily and Italy campaigns during World War II. After 28 years, he retired as an Air Force Colonel in 1967. Along the way, he earned the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross and 13 awards of the Air Medal.

From left, Adm. William H. McRaven and Murray State President Dr. Bob Jackson view a framed certificate designating Adm. McRaven as a Kentucky Colonel, awarded to him at a dinner held at Pogue Library before the Presidential Lecture.

McRaven also reflected on several key moments of his career, including the high-profile raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound.

“At the end of the day, I’m often asked about that mission,” McRaven said. “And as the face of this, I have gotten all the accolades, but let me tell you, I was one very, very small part of this. The helicopter pilots and the air crews, the SEALS and the intelligence professionals — it took hundreds and hundreds of people to pull this together.”

In addition to the lecture, McRaven participated in a reception at Pogue Library, where he met guests and signed copies of his books, including New York Times bestsellers “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations” and “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life… And Maybe the World.”

“It was a tremendous honor to welcome Adm. Bill McRaven and his wife, Georgeann, to Murray State University,” said Murray State President Dr. Bob Jackson. “Adm. McRaven is a well-known national and international authority on defense, international affairs and other policy issues.  Also, with his unique tie to the University, he was the perfect selection for our Presidential Lecture series.”

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