by Joy Neal Kidney, guest blogger

The shimmering outstretched wings of an American Bald Eagle seem to support five young men in uniform. The American flag shields them from above. 

Those young men are my mother’s brothers, one of them the twin of my Aunt Darlene. The Wilson brothers are honored on the new Dallas County Freedom Rock at Minburn. 

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Five Wilson brothers left Minburn to serve in World War II. Only two came home. 

Each brother’s personality was captured by artist Ray Sorensen. Each with such clear, compelling brown eyes. 

I’ve lived with the World War II letters of those young brothers ever since their mother Leora died in 1987. I’m sure my grandmother, Leora Wilson, would be gratified to know that her family’s enormous sacrifice will not be forgotten, remembered so poignantly on this imposing monument.

Iowa’s Freedom Rock phenomenon began in 1999, when Iowa treasure, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II from Greenfield, painted a 12-foot-tall boulder along Iowa Highway 25 near Menlo in western Iowa about a mile south of Interstate 80. 

Inspired by the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” and wanting to give Veterans a unique recognition on Memorial Day, Sorensen painted patriotic scenes on the boulder that year for the first time.

He isn’t paid to paint the original Freedom Rock. He uses his own money along with donations and sales of Freedom Rock merchandise to fund the project. He repaints this one every year in time for Memorial Day to thank our veterans and their families for their military service and sacrifice. 

In the Spring of 2013, Sorensen began The Iowa Freedom Rock Tour by offering to paint a Freedom Rock in all of Iowa’s 99 counties. His handsome work provides focal points for what’s good about each local area, provides tourism, and preservation of what is precious to us humans and should never be forgotten.

The Dallas County memorial is his 82nd Freedom Rock in Iowa. It’s located along Highway 169, just south of the old Minburn depot, which is now the Nineteen14 bar and grill. 

Yes, a memorial. It reminds me that in the Old Testament, Joshua was instructed to take stones from the Jordan River as memorials to their history, so that future children would ask what those stone meant.

Families can take their children to see any of Freedom Rocks, where they can get an attractive and compelling dose of history and heroes, to ponder service and sacrifice, to talk about why we celebrate Veterans Day, what patriotism means. 

Each Freedom Rock is accompanied by a storyboard, which helps explain who the pictured local heroes are and why they should be remembered. 

Ray Sorensen’s goals for his successful Freedom Rock Tour are to honor America’s veterans, contribute to Iowa tourism, and to provide for his family. 

Tourism. Minburn is one of Iowa’s smallest towns, population 365. If you visit the Freedom Rock there, be sure to find the huge roller skate north of the rock and near the Raccoon River Valley Bike Trail. Ask about the skate–there’s fascinating history there. 

Sports greats, Nile Kinnick (of Adel) and Bob Feller (Van Meter), are depicted on the north side of the Dallas County Freedom Rock. Both served in World War II. Kinnick lost his life in a training mishap and was never found.

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One of the Wilson brothers was killed in a training accident. One was lost in combat and has never been found. The third was killed in action and is buried in an American cemetery in France.

Leora Wilson lost three sons and was widowed within a three year period. Amazingly, she was a delight as a grandmother.

Ray Sorensen has made sure the terrible sacrifice made by this ordinary Iowa family will never be forgotten. Borne by the wings of an American Bald Eagle. Sheltered by Old Glory.

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Joy Neal Kidney is the author of Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II, available from Amazon by the end of the month.

The oldest granddaughter of the book’s heroine, Kidney is the keeper of family stories, letters, photos, combat records, casualty reports, and telegrams. Active on her own website, she is also a writer and local historian.

Married to a Vietnam Air Force veteran, she lives in central Iowa. Her nonfiction has been published in The Des Moines Register, other media, and broadcast over “Our American Stories.” Kidney is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, and her essays have been collected by the Iowa Women’s Archives at the University of Iowa.