From San Diego Union-Tribune:
'Freedom Rock' a Memorial Day fixture
Each year, artist turns boulder into patriotic statement
By Nafeesa Syeed
May 21, 2007
MENLO, Iowa – Ray “Bubba” Sorensen wanted to quit years ago, but there he was, turning up again and again at a 56-ton boulder to paint murals of the sacrifices of America's service members.
For nine years, Sorensen has painted on the boulder dubbed “Freedom Rock.” It has made him a celebrity in this a of central Iowa farm country and has become a Memorial Day tradition that draws thousands of people.
“I'm thanking these guys who signed up to do a job no one else wants to do,” said Sorensen, 27, a graphic artist from Ames, Iowa.
His idea began with a spurt of patriotism after watching the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Before Sorensen painted murals each May, the boulder about 40 miles west of Des Moines on an empty stretch of Highway 25 was covered with graffiti. Only once has the rock been defaced since he began painting scenes of soldiers, whether they are crossing the Delaware with Gen. George Washington or flying in a helicopter over Vietnam.
It takes Sorensen about three weeks to sketch and paint scenes on the rock. He sometimes works past midnight, using floodlights.
On a recent May morning, Sorensen knelt on gravel, methodically painting an image of Marines carrying a stretcher.
Every year, Marilee Kajewski, 54, of northeast Iowa stops to see the rock.
“I think it is an amazing tribute to the armed forces,” said Kajewski, whose father fought in World War II.
Local businesspeople encourage visits to the rock, arranging bus trips and erecting a welcome kiosk with a plastic mail bin that reads: “Leave a Note for Bubba.”
The site is especially popular with Vietnam War veterans.
Last year, a group of California veterans riding motorcycles to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington stopped at the mural before its completion. They planned to sprinkle the ashes of deceased friends around the rock, but Sorensen offered to mix the ashes into the paint.
“Eight different Vietnam vets ended up in the paint,” he said. “It kind of made it a living memorial.”
Sorensen sells prints and T-shirts emblazoned with images from the mural, but the money covers little more than the cost of his supplies. He planned to stop painting the boulder in 2003 but reconsidered after a call from an American Legion post in Colorado.
“I had to talk to every legion member. I was probably on the phone for three hours,” Sorensen said. “They were all giving reasons why I shouldn't quit.”
Sorensen emphasizes that his murals are in support of veterans, not blind backing of war.
“I'm not pro-war or pro-anybody's policy,” he said. “It's just one big thank you."