R: Dean Rockwell

Dean Rockwell

All American Hero

Michigan's Dean Rockwell's first venture to Europe was in the United States Navy when he led a group of soldiers in the Normandy landings. On 26th October, 1963, less than four weeks before he was assassinated in Dallas, President John F Kennedy said, “A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers.” 

Dean Rockwell was one of those about whom the President was speaking, and whom the President mentioned by name.

Dean Ladrath Rockwell was born on 25th May, 1912 in Michigan.   Prior to joining the navy Dean had taught amateur wrestling, athletics and football to High School students. He made his professional wrestling debut shortly after graduating from Eastern Michigan University in 1935. We have found reports of him wrestling as early as 1936.

In 1942 he enlisted in the United States Navy. Initially he was placed in command of his base’s physical fitness programme, and later served as a  a group commander  during the Normandy D Day landings on 6th June 6, 1944.

His decision to break radio silence prevented imminent disaster and Dean's bravery was recognised by the award of the US Navy Cross and the French Croix de Guerre avec Paume. In 1994 he received further recognition for his actions, in the form of the Navy Cross from President Clinton. 

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant, Junior Grade Dean Ladrath Rockwell, United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Group Commander of LCT Scout Boats carrying tanks to the beaches during the amphibious assault on the Normandy Coast of France on 6 June 1944. Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Rockwell, in the face of very heavy enemy fire, discharged the tanks on the ground. By quick and sound decision he was able to land all these tanks at the correct spot and, by skillful handling, incurred only a minimum of damage to his ships. The conduct of Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Rockwell throughout this action reflects great credit upon himself, and was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

Dean Rockwell came to Britain from the USA once again shortly after the war,  primarily to watch the London Olympic Games and  also to trace his family history (his parents were from Lincolnshire). 

Whilst in Britain he took the opportunity to wrestle professionally, working around northern England and Scotland.  In the summer of 1948 he seemed to be an almost weekly fixture at Belle Vue, Manchester, with opponents including Farmers Boy, Bert Assirati, Francis St Clair Gregory and Tony Mancelli, Dave Armstrong and Ray St Bernard. Dean worked in Britain for two months before returning home.

Dean returned to Britain in February, 1949, arriving at Prestwick Airport in the afternoon of 23rd February. Jet lag did him no harm as he defeated Vic Hessle at the Caird Hall, Dundee that night. For three months he worked around the country in contests with most of the top heavyweights. There was a third visit to Britain between June and August, 1952.

There were further non wrestling visits to Britain again in later years. Still involved in wrestling as an amateur coach, professional referee and promoter we find him sailing from Southampton on board the Queen Mary on 22nd September, 1960, with his occupation now listed as “Businessman.”

Back home he continued to teach amateur wrestling for many years, served on three Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling committees and trained the 1964 US Olympic team.  In 2000, America's biggest  wrestling library, the  AAU National Wrestling Hall of Fame, was named the "Dean Rockwell Library and Research Center." The Library holds over 300 books about wrestling, dating back to 1757, and thousands of magazines and newspaper resources.

In January 2007, Eastern Michigan University named a gymnasium  the "Dean L. Rockwell Wrestling Facility." 

Dean Rockwell died in Ypsilanti, Michigan, aged 93, on 8th August, 2005.

Page added 01/08/2019