MURRAY – Clarke County's newest landmark will be dedicated during a Veterans Day ceremony 11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 11.
The ceremony will be held at the recently constructed Clarke County Freedom Rock and Honor Wall, located at the Murray Cemetery, just off Highway 34 and County Highway R16.
The ceremony will include speeches from Jason Gibbs, member of the Clarke County Freedom Rock and Honor Wall committee; Ray "Bubba" Sorensen, the artist who painted the Freedom Rock; and Gov. Kim Reynolds.
Gibbs said program attendees are encouraged to park at the Bunn-O-Matic factory, located at 111 E. Dewey St. in Murray, and then ride the shuttle service provided by Southern Iowa Trolley to the cemetery.
Seating is also limited, so guests may want to bring their own lawn chairs.
Gibbs said the program should last about 30 minutes, and guests are invited to lunch at the Murray Community Center following the program. The Quilts of Valor Foundation will be presenting half a dozen quilts to Clarke County veterans during the luncheon.
Sorensen began painting the original Freedom Rock, located north of Greenfield, in 1999 after being inspired by the film "Saving Private Ryan."
The rock, which was painted with a new design each Memorial Day, quickly garnered fame.
Sorensen then came up with the idea to spread the message of the Freedom Rock by placing a Freedom Rock in each of Iowa's 99 counties.
"We're really thankful because Scott McLin brought the idea to us in March of 2015 and told us about the Freedom Rock and what they're trying to do in each of the counties in Iowa," Gibbs said. "We looked at it as a great opportunity, not only for Murray, but the county as a whole. We gave him $1,000 that night to get us on the list of Freedom Rocks."
Sorensen then met with the Clarke County Freedom Rock and Honor Wall committee to brainstorm ideas and themes for the rock.
He makes every Freedom Rock unique to the county it is located in.
"That usually means finding specific veterans," Sorensen said while working on another Freedom Rock in Cresco. "We landed on killed in action. That's the front side of that (rock) is a gold star family member clutching a flag that was given to them and the ghost of the fallen soldier touching her."
The front face of the Clarke County Freedom Rock also features a quote from Abraham Lincoln.
The back face of the rock, facing the Honor Wall, features illustrations of Maxton Daniel, Raymond Harris, George Horton, Herschel Oehlert and Bert Keeler, all Clarke County residents who were killed in action.
The west side of the rock features a large red bull logo, signifying the 34th Infantry Division, which Highway 34 is named after.
"There's so many people from Iowa that are a part of that, and not only Iowa, but the Midwest," Sorensen said. "Being a guy into U.S. Military history, it was one thing I was aware of that we have so many red bull veterans around who can relate to that."
"There was a guy from Garner, Iowa, driving by and he saw that red bull's face," Gibbs said. "It's got great history. This guy's dad was in the 34th Infantry Division. That was something Bubba added and thought would be appropriate. I'm so glad he did. That's a big deal to tens of thousands of people."
Constructed behind the Freedom Rock is the Honor Wall, which gives individuals the opportunity to have a veteran's name engraved on the wall.
"To have that Honor Wall, too, that was a great addition," Gibbs said. "Ron Wheeler kind of dreamed that up and Bill Black and I and Ron all put our brains together to put together the concept and how we'd build it. Anytime we've been out there working, there's been people stopping by and they've been very interested. To see a veteran honored in such a way is a great thing, I think."
The Honor Wall is not limited to veterans who lived in Clarke County.
Gibbs said the committee wanted to give everyone an opportunity to have their veteran recognized on the wall, especially since there will be people from all over the country visiting the Freedom Rock and Honor Wall.
Plaques for the Honor Wall can be purchased by contacting Gibbs at 641-414-1117.
While Murray Development Corporation and the Clarke County Freedom Rock and Honor Wall committee took the lead on the project, Gibbs said it wasn't hard to find help working on the project.
A $21,000 sponsorship from Clarke County Development Corporation was a big help and the South Central Iowa Community Foundation's $6,000 grant helped launch the project. Many people also donated their time and skills toward the project.
Much work has been done on the site of the Freedom Rock and Honor Wall, but Gibbs said there is still more to do.
"The rock is done, but we still have bigger plans," he said. "We need to still do a little more concrete work. We want to have some sort of shelter house, probably, that has more information in it, like a display case, something like that we can tell the story, the history of it. We're done with the most important part, but we're not done yet."