WILTON, Iowa–After months of anticipation, Wilton residents and military veterans from across Muscatine County came together Sept. 6 to celebrate the dedication of the Muscatine County Freedom Rock. For the first time since artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II finished painting in early June, visitors could view the scenes of local veterans depicted on the rock’s face.
Before members or the Durant, Muscatine, Wilton, and West Liberty American Legion posts removed the drape over the rock to reveal images of World War II, Vietnam, and more recent service, several speakers welcomed guests and gave their take of the significance of the event. State Representative and Wilton native Bobby Kaufmann shared how how he considered, “this Freedom Rock is a thank you to all those who severed.” He also explained how he found it an important reminder for people to support veterans as they return home and for the legislature to continue their track record of voting to overwhelmingly support veterans bills.
Sorensen himself attended the ceremony and spoke a few words about what inspired him to begin the Freedom Rock project, which aims to paint one rock in each of Iowa’s 99 counties to honor veterans. Inspired by the service of his uncle Ted in Vietnam and of his Great Uncle Albert in World War II as well as by the movie “Saving Privet Ryan,” Sorensen considers his art a way to memorialize the stories of veterans from all over who have served their country. He also hopes that they will unite communities in celebrating their veterans just as he sees the flags he places on each rock uniting all citizens. In his own words, “each fabric of that flag represents every single one of us as Americans.”
Finally, Wilton Native, Rear Admiral Will Pennington, who severed numerous tours of duty, including time as the commanding officer of the aircraft carrier George H. W. Bush briefly talked. Pennington discussed how the rock serves as a reminder of all the people who have served to protect their county. “The people on this rock gave their lives so that we could have gatherings like this,” he said. Pennington encouraged people to exercise the freedoms veterans fought to protect, especially by volunteering to grow strong communities. After he spoke, Pennington received a Quilt of Valor for his many years of service in the Navy.
Then, members of the American Legion revealed the final design of the Muscatine County Freedom Rock for the first time. They also gave a 21 gun salute and played Taps to mark the occasion.
Following the official ceremony, the River City 6 played patriotic music as many veterans from across the county took a photo with the rock on the plaza that surrounds it. The plaza features more than 510 pavers, each donated to honor a veteran from any branch of the service from Muscatine County, as well as a cannon brought to the site from the Muscatine County Court House.
Now on permanent display, anyone may come and view the Muscatine County Freedom Rock and surrounding plaza outside the Wilton Depot.