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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 Ray brings to life through painting, honoring and remembering service men and women.  Ray got the idea to start the Freedom Rock while watching the first half hour of Saving Private Ryan, when American soldiers storm Omaha Beach.  Ray said “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.”  In 1999, Ray began painting the Original Adair County Freedom Rock, which he repaints every year with a new look to honor our veterans.

 

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In 2013, Ray decided to “pull the trigger” on starting the Freedom Rock Tour.  Over the next 8 to 10 years Ray plans to paint a Freedom Rock in all 99 Iowa counties (Jasper County Rock pictured above).  He is also considering doing a Freedom Rock in all 50 states.  When asked how the specific theme for each rock is decided Ray said “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 Ray, inspiring him to continue on this tour.

When I reached out to Ray 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,” Ray 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. When asked about the most rewarding part of the Freedom Rock Tour, Ray replied,  “Letting all the Veterans know that we appreciate what they’ve done in service of our country and earning their approval.”  When I got the opportunity to meet Ray in person he was truly a great individual.  Instead of talking about himself, Ray was asking me questions my life, exemplifying his genuine humility.

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Every rock the Ray paints is a large time commitment away from home.  Ray said he would not be able to do the tour without his wife (pictured above), 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, Ray’s wife, is his rock.  Ray also said that his parents have supported him and have been by his side for the entire Freedom Rock experience.  John Porter, the Sargent 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.  These are just a few of the individuals who have supported Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II throughout this project.  I highly encourage you to check out and learn more about Ray and the Freedom Rocks here.

Update 10/5/15 : This article has been featured on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs official site, Veteran Loan Advisor, and Travel Iowa’s Facebook page.

All photos are used with permission from Ray & Maria Sorensen and can be found on The Freedom Rock Facebook page.