Freedom Rock Memorial Park

—Freedom Rock unveiling, Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 10 a.m.


CRESCO - He has the talent.
He has the passion.
He has the compassion.
He is Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, creator of The Freedom Rock Tour, and he was commissioned to paint Howard County’s Freedom Rock, located at the corner of Highway 9 and 3rd St. SW. in Cresco.
Howard County’s Rock
Sorensen started painting the rock, which was landscaped earlier this summer, on Oct. 23. But he has been making preparations on the design for a while.
“I ask the county organization heading the project what they want, but I decide on the design,” he explained. Basically, Howard County’s rock is just one piece of Sorensen’s 99-piece Freedom Rock Tour puzzle.
The Howard County Freedom Rock Committee Chairman is Jim Perry, but the committee is made up of representatives from around the county, including Rick Slifka (VFW Commander), Cindy Yslas, Gary Klomp, Mike Bigly, Bill Ondrashek, Harold Huhe, Loren Lienhard, Warren Steffen, Lee Pierce, Skip Grinhaug, Mark Grinhaug, Ed Fontes, Marshall Rogne, Roger Paulus, Spiff Slifka and Dennis Leard.
The group has been busy getting donations and working with both Sorensen and Chris Reicks of Reicks Monument and Landscaping to complete the project.
Committee members gave Sorensen information and web links for more information. He always asks for the stories behind the images each committee gives him. He then incorporates what he feels will fit into his “puzzle” on the face of the rock.
Howard County’s Freedom Rock contains:
• A painted American flag that is draped over the top of the Howard County Freedom Rock. Below the flag will be words, “Duty • Honor • Country,” as well as the names of the towns in Howard County.
• The front face features a Civil War soldier with a regimental flag, which represents all the men from Howard County who served in that war. 
Sorensen wanted to pay tribute to the men and women who answered the call of President Abraham Lincoln, who took with them a hand-sewn flag that is on display at the Howard County Historical Preserva-tion Center. In addition, Companies H and D would have been issued and carried Civil War regimental flags. 
• The skinny side (looking south) features the faces of the five admirals, with the silhouettes of two of the ships local soldiers were on during  the attack on Pearl Harbor: Herb Meirick’s USS Hornet and Bud Billmyer’s USS Medusa.
• The back side features “the world’s first stewardess,” Captain Ellen Church, and two-time POW escapee Lt. Commander Edouard Izac. “He should have a movie made about his life,” Sorensen stated. “He memorized information on German movements and jumped from a moving train! He was captured and escaped again.” 
Next to him on the rock is one the medals Izak received, the highest military decoration presented by the United States government to a member of its armed forces, the Medal of Honor, with the Tiffany Cross pattern.
Before he starts painting, Sorensen suggests to the host county to build a structure, Howard County chose a gazebo, over the top. He uses a specialty paint, silicate, that can last 100 years and costs $300-600 per gallon. “Although the paint doesn’t chip or fade, heavy hail can damage it. A roof helps protect it.”
Although he has done airbrushing in the past, he doesn’t use that technique often. “I love the impressionistic look the brushes give.”
Of the rock itself, Sorensen said it is the perfect size. “It is on the smaller end of medium-small, which is what I request. These guys nailed it! Five-six ft. tall by five-six ft. wide.”
There are more pieces to be added to Freedom Rock Memorial Park, such as black granite stones that will tell the story of eight conflicts, including dates and number of casualties. Perry said, “It will also have something that reflects that era, maybe a picture, a musical tune or a saying.” Several other monuments will have the names of donors. Some granite benches will also be added to the landscape.
The goal of the committee was to raise $150,000, which would include perpetual care. Since the big push this past June, the group has raised nearly $130,000! Perry commented, “God had his hand on this from the beginning.”
Tiffany Cross Medal of Honor
This design for the Medal of Honor, was used for recognition in the years 1917-1942. It was designed by Tiffany Company in 1919. The original medal of honor was an upside-down star and was designated as the non-combat version. The Tiffany Cross was to recognize heroism from combat and the line of a sailor’s profession. It was awarded to a sailor or Marine who was involved in actual combat.
The Tiffany Cross was unpopular because some thought it resembled the German Iron Cross.
There is not a complete list of names who received the Tiffany Cross, but the best research has just 28 recipients, including Howard County’s own Edouard Izac! He was one of 21 Navy sailors and seven Marines. Another list has just 22 recipients. 
Freedom Rock History
Sorensen got his inspiration for painting rocks after watching “Saving Private Ryan” while attending Iowa State University in 1999 for Arts & Design.
“As I was watching the movie, I thought how lucky I was that sitting in a theatre is as close to war as I would get. I wanted to thank our veterans for doing that for me.”
Growing up in Fontanelle, Sorensen passed the 60-ton “graffiti rock” many times on his way to Des Moines, about an hour to the northeast. The rock sits in the middle of nowhere and was used as a canvas to paint all sorts of graffiti. “It would change all the time. It could have naughty things or ‘I love whoever,’” the painter recalled.
“I wanted to thank the veterans before Memorial Day, so I painted the flag-raising at Iwo Jima. It got painted over.” 
Some veterans ap-proached him and asked him to do it again the following year. “This time I painted the entire rock. It stayed for an entire year.” That was unheard of with the graffiti rock. “Back then, it stayed painted a week and it got painted over again.” 
Not that time. It stayed for a whole year . . . until Sorensen changed the design again, just as he has done every year since. (Check out all the designs on the “Original Freedom Rock” at
The rock has become a tourist attraction for the Fontanelle/Greenfield area. One year, as he was painting the original Freedom Rock, a group of veterans was on its annual motorcycling trip from the west coast to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. 
Sorensen recalled, “As I knelt down, painting, the group of bikers came. They start in California and pick up riders along the route. They take ashes to the Wall. They asked to scatter some ashes there. I said, ‘It’s windy. Why don’t you add them to my paint?’” The helicopter contains the ashes of about 100 Vietnam veterans. 
He has never painted over the helicopter that contains the ashes of those veterans. He noted he has a special affinity for Vietnam veterans. “My uncle was a [Navy] Seabee in Vietnam. They didn’t get a very nice welcome home.”
After that he started getting ashes in the mail.
Ashes have been added to paint used yearly, which is covered up, but still on the rock. “I never strip paint from the rock, just paint over it,” Sorensen explained.
He has also added ashes to county Freedom Rocks, including Fort Dodge, where 30 or so veterans’ ashes were incorporated into the design. “It gives them [relatives and friends] somewhere to visit besides a cemetery.” 
Freedom Rock Tour
Although he’s been painting Freedom Rocks since 1999, it wasn’t until the fall of 2012 when he and his wife decided to market a tour. His goal is to have a Freedom Rock in each of the 99 counties. Howard County is number 68. 
He isn’t sure if he wants to branch out into other states for family reasons. Although he loves the Freedom Rock Tour, it’s not like the rocks can be brought to him to paint. “I didn’t factor in being gone all the time. I feel I get a very small sense of what soldiers go through.”
It takes him from 7-10 days to complete each rock, working eight or more hours. He once did a 36-hour stint to finish a rock. He usually stays with the rock until it is finished. Then he goes home for 7-10 days before going on the road again.
His wife, like the spouses of soldiers who are called to duty, keeps the home fires burning. Maria does most of the paperwork for the business, including taxes, billing and keeping in contact with clients. “I just put my head down and paint,” Sorensen smiled. “I couldn’t be as efficient without Maria.”
His wife also takes care of their son and daughter, Michael, age three, and Indie (short for Independence), age six. As the reader may have guessed, her name has some significance. “We were in the West Indies when we found out we were expecting.” They started calling the baby Indie, and decided they like it. Bubba started researching names and decided Independence was perfect for the Freedom Rock painter’s child!
To honor his family, he hides their names somewhere in each creation. “They are a big part of the project,” he noted.
“I never thought I’d be painting Freedom Rocks like this. I didn’t start this to make money. I thought it could be a part of my mural-painting business, but I am happy to promote Iowa tourism and feed my family,” he smiled.
“I’m not a veteran—I’m just a painter.”
The unveiling of the Freedom Rock will be held at 10 a.m. on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11. Afterwards, fellowship and a light lunch will be served at VFW Post 4561. Anyone wishing to help with the meal should contact Marcie Huhe.
Next spring, a dedication will take place, when more pieces of the park will be installed. There will be black granite stones that will tell about each town in the county, donors, some facts about each conflict and perhaps even an explanation of the images on the rock.

Cresco Times

Phone: 563-547-3601
Fax: 563-547-4602

Cresco TPD
214 N. Elm Street
Cresco, IA 52136

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