Legion Riders get peek at completed Freedom Rock

Published 5:10 pm Sunday, September 24, 2023

About a week after he started painting outside the Freeborn County Courthouse, an Iowa artist on Sunday unveiled a transformed boulder — what is now Minnesota’s seventh Freedom Rock — to a small group of Albert Lea American Legion Riders.

Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II said each of the Freedom Rocks he paints becomes almost like one of his children, and he was glad to complete it so others could enjoy it.

“It’s always good to lift up veterans and not let stories like these die,” he said.

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Sorensen and the American Legion Riders on the committee for the rock considered several ideas for the scenes to be pictured. In this case, there are three main scenes, as well as an American flag, which looks as if it is draped over the top of the rock.

“We all love it — we’re amazed,” said American Legion Rider Scott Kallberg, who is on the committee to help raise funds for the project.

On the front of the 28,000-pound boulder, Sorensen painted area native Chief Warrant Officer Corey Goodnature, who was killed in 2005 when his company’s MH-47 Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan while attempting to rescue missing Navy SEALS. Next to Goodnature on the rock is the crest for the Night Stalkers, which he was a part of, and a Battlefield Cross, also known as a Soldier’s Cross, which is a memorial marker for a soldier who has been killed — made up of a soldier’s rifle stuck into the ground or the soldier’s boots, with the helmet on top.

Above Goodnature on the rock is a helicopter similar to the one he would have been in — even down to the number on the aircraft.

“That foundation has done so much for this town,” Kallberg said. “He would be so proud with what they’ve done with his legacy.”

The second scene features American Legion Riders and a Purple Heart medal, which recognizes the work done not only to make the Freedom Rock possible but also to make Freeborn County the state’s first Purple Heart county.

The third flat side features the six Levisen brothers of Freeborn County, who all served in the military and five of whom were called to serve in World War II and who returned back home. Kallberg said it was a unique story that did not happen often.

The Freedom Rock at the end of this week will have a protectant put on the rock, and after that has cured, the tent that has been in place as Sorensen painted will be removed so the public can view it.

An official ceremony will likely be held in the spring once sidewalks to the rock are in place, as well as some form of gazebo or cover to protect it from the elements.

“We’ve had so many wonderful people in this community who’ve helped us,” Kallberg said.

Sponsors and others who have played a part in the project will be recognized through a QR Code placed at the site in the spring. People can scan the code and also learn more about the different stories featured on the rock.

Sorensen started Freedom Rocks in Iowa with a 12-foot-tall boulder near the small town of Menlo, Iowa. In 1999, Sorensen painted a “thank you” to veterans on the boulder and has continued to honor veterans by donating his time for new murals on this boulder every May for Memorial Day, drawing in people each year to see what he has created. To expand this message further, Sorensen felt compelled to do more and set out in hopes of every county in Iowa having a Freedom Rock of their own. He has achieved this goal and has since painted others in other states.

He is in his 25th year of painting the murals.