This article originally appeared on Explore Iowa.
Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, a born and raised Iowan, is the artist responsible for the original Freedom Rock and the Freedom Rock Tour. Freedom Rocks are large stones that Sorensen brings to life through his painting to honor and remember Servicemen and women. He got the idea to start the Freedom Rock while watching the first half hour of Saving Private Ryan, when American soldiers stormed Omaha Beach. “I felt very lucky that that was all the closer I had been to war, sitting in a movie theater. I knew then that I wanted to do something special for our Veterans to let them know we all appreciate what they’ve done for us,” Sorensen said.
In 1999, Sorensen began painting the Original Adair County Freedom Rock, which he repaints every year with a new look to honor our Veterans. In 2013, he decided to “pull the trigger” on starting the Freedom Rock Tour. Over the next eight to 10 years Ray plans to paint a Freedom Rock in all 99 Iowa counties (Jasper County Rock pictured below). He is also considering doing a Freedom Rock in all 50 states.
When asked how the specific theme for each rock is decided Sorensen explained, “I do research on the specific area/county and ask for ideas from the Freedom Rock committee.” In other words, each Freedom Rock is unique to its own county with a special connection. At every stop Veterans share their stories with the artist, inspiring him to continue on this tour.
When I reached out to Sorensen, he was finishing the Black Hawk County Freedom Rock and told me about getting to know Taylor Morris, a Veteran who is featured on the Black Hawk County Rock.
“Taylor was an EOD in the Navy and lost all four limbs when he stepped on a IED,” Sorensen noted. “He’s incredibly inspirational and just a powerful story to illustrate the perseverance of our Veterans.” You can learn more about Taylor and his story on the Taylor Morris Community Support page on Facebook.
What is the most rewarding part of the Freedom Rock Tour? For Sorensen, it’s “letting all the Veterans know that we appreciate what they’ve done in service of our country and earning their approval.”
Every rock the Sorensen paints is a large time commitment away from his home. He said he would not be able to do the tour without his wife, who not only cares for both of their young children while he is away, but also does his scheduling, orders materials, answers calls, responds to emails, does their taxes and many other things. I think it would be fair to say Maria, Sorensen’s wife, is his rock. The painter also said that his parents have supported him and have been by his side for the entire Freedom Rock experience. John Porter, the Sergeant at Arms of the original Freedom Rock, is a Vietnam Veteran and friend of Ray who takes care of the flags at the original Freedom Rock.
Editor’s note: All photos are used with permission from Ray & Maria Sorensen and can be found on The Freedom Rock Facebook page. Learn more about Ray and the Freedom Rocks here.
A native of Grinnell, Iowa, Nick Moorehead is currently a student at the University of Northern Iowa, pursuing a bachelors degree in history, with minors in marketing, interactive digital studies and business communication.