By Laura Huffman
Saint Robert, Missouri Mayor George Lauritson couldn’t imagine a better location to host a Freedom Rock than Pulaski County’s patriotic “Gateway to Fort Leonard Wood.” During a previous tenure as Mayor, in 2002, Lauritson brought the tanks that are displayed throughout the city to town. He had also envisioned a “Military Rock Art Park” that displayed crests and symbols from units attached to Ft. Leonard Wood. In his most recent term of service as Mayor he has been able to turn that vision into reality at a location between Interstate 44 and St. Robert Boulevard.
Michael Myers, now a Saint Robert alderman, noticed that the military rock art reminded him of Freedom Rocks that he had seen across Iowa. Myers approached City Council and after particulars were hammered out between city officials and the artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, it was announced that Saint Robert would be the location of Missouri’s third Freedom Rock.
The Freedom Rock project began in Greenfield, Iowa after Sorensen watched “Saving Private Ryan.” Sorensen decided that he would cover up the graffiti on a large rock beside the highway near town with a mural thanking America’s veterans. Since 1999 Sorensen has returned to the original Greenfield Freedom Rock and painted a new tribute each year before Memorial Day. The Greenfield Freedom Rock is especially poignant as veterans have asked to have their ashes mixed into Sorensen’s paint.
Sorensen’s paint isn’t the typical “off the rack” paint found at local hardware and home improvement stores. The natural pigment used in some of his blue hued paint is mined in Afghanistan and the finished paint can cost as much as $600 a gallon. The canvas for Sorensen’s Freedom Rock at Saint Robert is a slab of Missouri limestone, quarried at Laquey, in Pulaski County, measuring 9 feet by 10 feet at its widest point. The unpainted rock slab has a retail value of approximately $12,000. The limestone rock is set in 12 inches of concrete and a structure has been built over the stone to help protect it from the elements.
Many of the Freedom Rocks use a granite slab as Sorensen’s canvas. He states that Saint Robert’s porous limestone Freedom Rock creates challenges and will give it a different look than some of the ones that he has previously painted. His methodology remains the same though—a quick “scrape” of Missouri’s military history for inspiration and then sketching his vision directly onto the rock itself in pencil before bringing the detailed work to life with vivid colors.
Saint Robert’s Freedom Rock will feature Medal of Honor recipient General Leonard Wood and the Rough Rider era. It also will pay tribute to Fort Wood’s history as a training installation with a scene of a Drill Sergeant interacting with soldier-in-training during basic combat training. The reverse side of the limestone will depict “The Spirit of Pulaski County,” a North American P-51 Mustang aircraft that was purchased for the World War II effort during the third War Loan Drive. The “skinny side” of the slab will be painted with the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross and the top of the rock will be draped in a painted American flag.
Sorensen’s Freedom Rocks are crafted with endurance in mind. Other than the original Freedom Rock, he does not return to repaint them. The quality of materials that he uses and three protective sealants, including one layer of vandal frustrating sealer, should protect the vividness of his art work and images for forty years.
Sorensen is excited to unveil his latest Freedom Rock in Saint Robert, Missouri’s second Purple Heart City. He noted that motor coaches in Iowa plan day trips that center around visiting four or five of his rocks. “Freedom Rock groupies” travel to visit each installation. Karen Hood, CTIS, Military Reunion Coordinator for Pulaski County Tourism Bureau commented that reunion groups will especially appreciate the patriotic tribute. Leisure travelers planning a Freedom Rock themed road trip will be able to explore Missouri’s northeast (Maryville) to the stunning Ozarks of the south central region (Saint Robert) before traveling to southeast riverside town of Cape Girardeau.
Mayor Lauritson and the City Council plan to continue the celebration of Saint Robert’s patriotism after the Freedom Rock is completed. The brick chimney from the former U.S.O. is being rebuilt alongside Missouri Boulevard and the site will play host to another rock- this one recognizing Missouri’s Medal of Honor recipients as well as the Show Me State’s missing in action service members. Lauritson would also like for that area to include displays honoring the Navy and Marines, and possibly a fighter plane to symbolize the Air Force.
An official unveiling ceremony for Saint Robert’s Freedom Rock will be announced soon.
For more things to see and do in Pulaski County, Missouri, please visit http://www.PulaskiCountyUSA.com