Thousands of people visit a huge rock sitting along Highway 25 near Menlo in western Iowa, about a mile south of Interstate 80.
For years it was covered with graffiti. But while artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen was still a teenager, this native of Greenfield had been inspired by the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” and thought of a way he could give veterans a unique recognition with that 12-foot-tall boulder.
For Memorial Day 1999, Sorensen painted patriotic scenes all over the rock.
Word got around. People from all over wanted to see it. The next year he repainted it with new scenes, to thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice.
As an annual donation, Sorensen repaints that original Freedom Rock in time for Memorial Day. An American flag draped over the top has become a fundamental part of his compelling creations.
Only the Huey helicopter stays because, since 2006, its paint has been mixed with the ashes of Vietnam veterans.
What if he could arrange for a rock designed especially for each county? Even more local men and women could be recognized. The idea took off and in 2013 Iowa’s Freedom Rock Tour began.
As his art has matured, so has Sorensen’s vision for Freedom Rocks across Iowa, one for each of our 99 counties. Every one of them is unique to that county’s history. The goal isn’t to depict every local hero, not even all branches of the service, but each is part of the whole.
The shimmering outstretched wings of an American bald eagle seem to support five young men in uniform on a large stone at Minburn, Iowa. An American flag shields them from above.
Those five young men honored on the Dallas County Freedom Rock are my mother’s brothers.
One by one, all five Wilson brothers left a Minburn farm to serve in World War II. Only two came home.
Two dozen years ago, I began writing about the Wilson family. Some of my journaling included prayers. Prayers that their losses would be remembered, that maybe people would even want to see where their stories had taken place.
Two dozen years ago, “Bubba” Sorensen was still in junior high. He’d never even thought about painting a rock.
What an awesome answer to prayer!