We arrived at Minburn in a heavy drizzle and 51 degrees. There’s a lot of warm clothing a girl can hide under a dress and boots, so that’s how I bundled up.
Ray “Bubba” Sorensen, the founder and artist of the Freedom Rocks, wasn’t able to attend after all. He’d just lost his grandfather, Michael Sorensen (whom his son is named for), and the funeral was the same day.
Simon Conway, WHO Radio news personality, was the keynote speaker.
Not only is this man a force to be reckoned with, he’s also on the Boards of Directors for the Puppy Jake Foundation and the USS Iowa. His friend, Denny Dorman, who is one of the “Chosin Few” who survived the massacre at Chosin Reservoir during the Korean war, owns the Puppy Jake service dog named Simon.
Conway expressed appreciation of veterans and talked about how the Puppy Jake service dogs have benefited men who’ve needed them. When Denny Dorman received his, he slept without nightmares for the first time in 50 years! He was pretty reclusive. Saturday he was one of the first to arrive, and one of the last to leave. Remarkable.
Video, thanks to Doc Phillips, shows the Young Patriots Club beginning to line up, and some of the 200 who came to Minburn in spite of the cool drizzly day.
I don’t have a good picture of Nick Praska, Executive Director of Dallas County Veterans Affairs. Praska, the young man with the full beard, spoke next, talking about what his office can offer local veterans.
I was asked to talk about how the loss of the three Wilson brothers had affected the family. After Ray Sorensen couldn’t come, could I also pick up some of his remarks and expand mine? I needed notes after all.
About 25 years ago I’d prayed that the loss of Dale, Danny, and Junior Wilson would not be forgotten. The two older brothers married during the war, but only Delbert Wilson had children. Most of us cousins are the children of the two sisters, Doris and Darlene. Doris was born after the two oldest (Navy brothers), Darlene was Dale’s twin–the one in the middle, who has never been found.
But 25 years ago, Ray Sorensen was probably in junior high. There were no Freedom Rocks. He was still a teenager when he painted that original one, just south of I-80 between Menlo and Greenfield. Since then, he married Maria and they have a darling family. Their son Mikey is named for the patriarch whom they buried Saturday. Their daughter is Indie, short for Independence.
Ray said he especially enjoyed working on the Freedom Rock at Minburn because he could sleep in his own bed every night, and both children could help–Mikey helped prime, Indie filled in big chunks of color.
As Sorensen’s art has matured, so has his vision for 99 Freedom Rocks across Iowa–one in each county. The goal isn’t to depict every local hero nor even every branch of the service, but each monument is a part of of the whole. His goals are spelled out on his website: 1. Honor veterans. 2. Provide tourism. 3. Support his family.
Legendary Athletes Nile Kinnick and Bob Feller
Tourism: Two legendary Dallas County athletes are featured on the north side of The Rock. Nile Kinnick of Adel was a football great at the U of Iowa, Heisman Trophy winner, All American. He became a pilot during WWII, but was lost in training in the Caribbean in 1943. In 1972, the U of Iowa renamed Kinnick Stadium in his honor.
Little known is that Kinnick’s younger brother, Benjamin Kinnick, was killed in action in 1944, in New Guinea, in a B-25. The Kinnick family lost two of their three sons during the war.
Bob Feller of Van Meter was already in the baseball major leagues when he was 17, then returned home to finish high school. (The three oldest Wilson brothers, then in school at Dexter, played against both Kinnick and Feller. Dexter lost to both.) Feller pitched 18 seasons with the Cleveland Indians, taking time out for four years of Naval service during WWII.
Local Heroes on the Freedom Rock Storyboard
There’s information about the Wilson brothers, Kinnick and Feller on the accompanying storyboard, but only four other local heroes.
The last one is George Soumas, the most highly decorated Iowan during WWII. His daughter Mary introduced herself after the dedication, and of course told me more stories.
Along the bottom, several local heroes are listed by name, war, and medals awarded. I told the audience how to learn more about those men on the Dallas County (Iowa) History Facebook page, with a photo and short history of each man.
The first one listed is Dennis Dorman. I didn’t know anything about the Korean War until contacting Denny for information. That led me to read Devotion by Adam Makos, and I finally got to meet Denny himself Saturday.
Local historian Rod Stanley will be giving a program at the Waukee Library November 3 about more of these local heroes. He’s asked me to talk about the Wilson family and he let me choose one more, so I’m planning to tell about Joe Dew from Redfield.
Dallas County Wilson Brothers
The WWII category on this website tells the stories of the Wilson family. The place where they were tenant farmers is just west of Minburn, from where the brothers left to serve their country, one by one. Only two came home.
I didn’t know until I was in my mid-forties that only one of the brothers is buried at Perry. We’d left homemade bouquets for all three who were lost, and for Grandpa Clabe Wilson.
The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, nearly the end of the war, two of the brothers were still MIA–one in New Guinea, one in Austria. When the local mailman delivered a telegram that day, it revealed that the youngest brother had been killed in Texas, where his P-40 had exploded.
Months later the government wrote the Wilsons that the grave of Danny Wilson had been located, and that the death of Dale Wilson had been officially declared. Clabe Wilson died the fall of 1946 of a stroke. . . and a broken heart.
If the Dallas County Freedom Rock is an answer to my long-ago prayers to make sure the Wilson brothers were remembered, it was worth the wait. I could never have even imagined anything so fulfilling as being part of the Dallas County Freedom Rock.
Maybe the Wilson brothers were looking down on us Saturday, marveling at their likenesses on the handsome monument. All five hunting and hiking buddies, brothers, borne on the wings of an American Bald Eagle, sheltered by an American flag.
The Legion posts in Dallas County raised so many funds that they were able to donate $1500 to the Puppy Jake Foundation!
Afterwards, I stayed around for 90 minutes, soaking up stories mostly from veterans of various sizes and ages, assorted beard configurations, almost all wearing a Legion hat or a cap announcing their ship or unit.
One of the first was a Goliath of a man who wanted to tell me that he’d heard all three of my stories on Our American Stories, that he downloads the podcasts from WHO-Radio to listen to when he drives. I found a picture of him later, shaking hands with each child in the Young Patriots Club.
At left: Denny Dorman and Puppy Simon. Survivor of landings at Inchon, and the Chosin Reservoir massacre–Korea. Second photo: Doc Phillips, Commander 6th District American Legion, Dept. Iowa, talking about hearing my stories on Our American Stories. Behind him (knitted cap) is Jim Boll, Vietnam veteran from Dallas Center who rescues classic windmills.
Supervisor Mark Hanson looks a little skeptical, doesn’t he? The young man at right is Minburn’s Mayor. I told him he was too young to be a mayor. At my age, I can say things like that. By then, Guy had escaped to the car and was listening to the Iowa game.
Thanking God for such an awesome day. I wasn’t nervous at all, just basked in the entire thing, then came home and had a good nap.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits. – James 3:17