Simpson hosts Freedom Rock artist in honor of veterans


Ray “Bubba” Sorenson, who has gained nationwide fame for his elaborate and patriotic Freedom Rocks, visited Simpson last Wednesday to give the keynote speech at the annual Veterans Day Ceremony. The Freedom Rocks serve as a thank you to those who have served in the military. (Photo: Austin Hronich/The Simpsonian)

by Taia Veren, Staff Reporter

INDIANOLA, Iowa — The artist known for painting the well-known Freedom Rocks across Iowa spoke at Simpson College’s Veterans Day Ceremony on Nov. 1 in Smith Chapel to honor the service of military veterans.

This year, Veterans Day is Saturday.

Simpson’s Veterans Day Ceremony began with an introduction from Troy King, Simpson’s veteran services coordinator, followed by the national anthem and a selection of songs featuring the branches of the military performed by Simpson choral students.

Simpson College has about 50 students who have served in the military on its three campuses, King said.

“As the veteran services coordinator and an 18-year veteran in the Army Reserve, I’ve had three deployments, and I think we should give as much recognition to our student veterans as we can,” King said.

After King spoke, Iowa native Ray “Bubba” Sorensen took the state to explain how the famed Freedom Rocks came to be. It started with the first Freedom Rock in 1999, which was an approximately 60-ton boulder near Menlo.

Sorenson said he was inspired to paint this rock with a patriotic visual, and he has continued this tradition ever since by repainting the rock with a different design every year as a thank you to veterans.

Sorensen was inspired by the movie, “Saving Private Ryan” and his uncle’s service in the Vietnam War to find a way to honor those who have served our country.

“The way my uncle was treated when he came home from Vietnam never set well with me, and I thought we should have treated our men and women in uniform a lot better,” Sorensen said.
The Freedom Rock painting is a volunteer effort by Sorensen.

The paintings have gained media attention from across the world and was featured on Fox News and the “Today Show.” They’ve also become a viral email thread about five years into the process.

After 9/11 Sorensen received calls from people saying not to stop the paintings. He now paints the Freedom Rock every May for Memorial Day.

“I wanted to do something, to create, to paint something to say, ‘Recognize our veterans and remind people what Memorial Day is all about,’” Sorensen said.

The Freedom Rock has become a national attraction and a labor of love from Sorensen to veterans. Sorensen’s next goal is to paint a freedom rock in every county in Iowa through the Freedom Rock Tour.

Sorenson said he’s trying to illustrate and bring back to life forgotten stories of veterans with every new painting. As of November, 38 out of the 99 counties in Iowa have Freedom Rocks painted by Sorensen.

Sorensen hopes to finish the project within the next three to four years. His goal is to paint a freedom rock in every state.

“Bubba Sorensen has done a good thing here,” King said. “Even though he’s never served, he is recognizing all of us veterans who have served.”

King recognized Sorensen’s work as a pilgrimage or significant devotion dedicated to veterans.

Sorensen has made many connections with veterans throughout the years painting the Freedom Rocks, and people have given him ashes of fallen veterans which he mixes into the paint he uses on the Freedom Rocks.

“I can tell stories from every single year that I’ve painted on the freedom rock,” Sorensen said.

Although some Freedom Rocks subject to vandalism, Sorensen makes the effort of fixing his paintings to restore them. This year he painted a tribute for the 60th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, but it was vandalized.

Sorensen’s patriotic artwork has been featured with the Iowa lottery to raise money for the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund, Delta Airlines and the American Legion.

Sorensen encourages people to support the Freedom Rock project online at where people can buy shirts, calendars and other merchandise or donate to the project.