Allamakee County Freedom Rock unveiled at ceremony held during Patriot Day; Artist honors Veterans

Celebrating their Freedom Rock ... A crowd of more than 100 individuals gathered at Waukon City Park late Friday morning, September 11 to observe the unveiling of the Allamakee County Freedom Rock and celebrate its significance in honoring and showing gratitude for the service of all U.S. military veterans. Freedom Rock artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen was in attendance at the unveiling event, along with several individuals representing some of the families of the six Allamakee County Veterans Sorensen selected to paint on the rock. Standard photo by Joe Moses. View this photo and many more from the unveiling ceremony by clicking on the Photo Galleries link on this website.

Expressing his gratitude ... Freedom Rock artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen of Greenfield addresses the crowd in attendance at the Friday, September 11 unveiling ceremony of the Allamakee County Freedom Rock he created through the final week and a half of August at the Waukon City Park. Sorensen spoke of his inspiration for painting his original Freedom Rock and creating the Iowa Freedom Rock Tour that Allamakee County has now become a part of with Sorensen’s 92nd such creation honoring all U.S. military veterans and thanking them for their service. Pictured with Sorensen, left to right, are U.S. Navy Veteran Chuck Bloxham of Waukon, who served as the unveiling event Master of Ceremony, and Ardie Kuhse of rural Postville, who put the plans for the Allamakee County Freedom Rock in motion five years ago and completed the application process for such an honor in 2016. Standard photo by Joe Moses. View this photo and many more from the unveiling ceremony by clicking on the Photo Galleries link on this website.

David Reed ... Submitted photo

Hugh Kidder ... Submitted photo

James Gilbert ... Submitted photo

Arthur Brandt ... Submitted photo

James Hagen ... Submitted photo

Roy Vickery ... Submitted photo

A project that got its start five years ago was brought to full reality as the Allamakee County Freedom Rock was unveiled in a public ceremony held at its new home in Waukon City Park on a seemingly fitting day, Friday, September 11 - Patriot Day as it has been designated since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The recently completed creation of Iowa artist Ray “Bubba” Sorensen of Greenfield is his 92nd Freedom Rock masterpiece intended to honor and thank America’s Veterans and to promote Iowa tourism, becoming yet another part of Sorensen’s vision of a 99-piece puzzle that serves as one statewide Iowa Veterans Memorial, an idea that really gained momentum for Sorensen after that fateful September day in American history nearly 20 years ago.

“After waiting for five years to see our rock finally painted, it is a dream come true,” beamed Ardie Kuhse, Allamakee County resident who began the planning stages for Allamakee County’s Freedom Rock in 2015 before making official application to have Allamakee County be part of the statewide project in 2016. “The moment of the unveiling was so special and so emotional, it took my breath away. I was honored and humbled to have the presence of so many Allamakee County Veterans there today. The program was for them, to honor and thank them. Having them there to see and view the rock for the first time was overwhelming. I sincerely hope that they now have a sense that all of us owe them a debt of gratitude for America and the freedoms that we have been given. Also, having Bubba present at the unveiling this morning just put the icing on the cake for me.  It’s because of him that we even have the opportunity to have one of his creations grace our county. When the project is entirely finished, we will truly have a site to be even more proud of.”

Friday’s unveiling revealed six images of Allamakee County veterans Sorensen chose to immortalize on his latest creation, representing a variety of U.S. military history involving local natives and residents from multiple eras and highlighting a variety of honorings earned in service to their country. From information provided by local military historians and through his own research, Sorensen chose his own images to paint in representation of the more local piece of military history that fit into his overall Iowa Freedom Rock Tour puzzle throughout all of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Those images, painted by Sorensen during the final week and a half of August, included six veterans from throughout Allamakee County representing U.S. military involvement in a variety of wartime events. From the Civil War era, Sorensen chose David Wilson Reed of Waukon and James Isham Gilbert of Lansing, with Hugh Pratt Kidder of Waukon and Arthur Frederick Brandt of Postville representing the WWI era as well as both being Killed in Action (KIA) and awarded prestigious honors. Sorensen also selected a pair of Missing in Action (MIA) Veterans to be represented on the Allamakee County Freedom Rock in James Bryson Hagen of Waterville from World War II and Roy Martin Vickery of Postville, who was also a Prisoner of War (POW) during the Korean War.

Sorensen was initially not going to be able to attend Friday’s unveiling, but he was able to free up his schedule late in the week and was in attendance for the unveiling in Waukon. He had been painting his 93rd Freedom Rock in Fayette County in the days prior to Friday’s unveiling and completed that creation in time to be present Friday and address the crowd of more than 100 people gathered in Waukon City Park.

Sorensen talked about the history of how the initial Freedom Rock he painted in Menlo near his hometown came to be, and how viewing the movie “Saving Private Ryan” served as inspiration for what has evolved into an Iowa Freedom Rock Tour involving all of Iowa’s 99 counties. Following the unveiling, Sorensen shared with The Standard that the public was now able to view the finished mural from all sides and from different perspectives with the lowering of the sides of the tent that have covered the Freedom Rock prior to the unveiling. His comments referred to the enclosed area within the tent not allowing for the distance and perspective preferable for viewing a mural such as this with the unveiling being the first opportunity for a proper viewing of this artwork, which he describes as “almost coming alive” when viewed from afar.

Prior to rearranging his schedule and actually being able to be in attendance at Friday’s unveiling, Sorensen had also previously shared the following statement about the images he chose to paint on the Allamakee County Freedom Rock and the historic and honored meaning behind them:

“When I illustrate these specific stories, my hope is that they catapult the conversation onto the many others who served in the same theater or who earned the same medal, and so on. My intent is to highlight these stories and history that are interesting to me to be a reminder of the service and sacrifice of all who served, not just those who I’ve painted.”

Sorenson also continually points out that the significance of painting an image of the U.S. flag draping over each rock signifies how each fiber of the U.S. flag represents every veteran and every American. “It stands for patriotism,” he has noted.

Friday’s unveiling event featured U.S. Navy Veteran Charles “Chuck” Bloxham of Waukon as Master of Ceremony. Within her comments during the event, Kuhse offered her gratitude to all involved throughout the process, noting that “this could not have been possible without each and every one of you.” She also spoke of the fundraising efforts currently in place to take the Allamakee County Freedom Rock Project to its second phase of landscaping and applicable signage to highlight not only the Freedom Rock and its depicted images, but also the multitude of other attractions within Waukon and throughout Allamakee County.

Several of the Allamakee County Veterans featured on the new Freedom Rock had family members in attendance in a show of their support and pride. Brief biographies of each of the six individuals Sorensen selected to paint on the Allamakee County Freedom Rock appear below:

David Wilson Reed was born in New York April 2, 1841, but his family moved and settled in Allamakee County in 1855, where they farmed in the Elon area east of Waukon. Reed enlisted in the Union Army September 15, 1861 and served as part of Company C of the 12th Iowa Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.

Reed’s regiment took part in the Battle of Shiloh near Savannah, TN, described as the first major Civil War battle in the western area of the war between the North and the South. The battle began April 6, 1862 and Reed was wounded severely in the leg, unable to surrender himself but remaining on the battlefield overnight, until he was evacuated by Union forces.

Reed went on to participate in many more battles during the Civil War, being cited for gallantry and distinguishing himself in combat on his way to the rank of Major. After the war, Reed returned to Waukon, studying law and being admitted to the bar in 1867. He served as Allamakee County Recorder for ten years and was appointed Postmaster of Waukon by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880, serving in that position until 1887.

When Congress established Shiloh National Military Park in Tennessee in 1894, Reed was appointed secretary and historian of the facility. Studying every resource available to him, he was relentless in his search for accuracy in regard to commemorating the battle he fought in. For those efforts, Reed is recognized as the “Father of Shiloh National Military Park.” He died September 22, 1916 and is buried in Waukon.

James Isham Gilbert was born July 16, 1823 in Louisville, KY and moved to Illinois and then to Wisconsin where he worked as a lumberman, Indian trader and liveryman. He finally settled in Iowa in 1851, becoming one of the early settlers in the town of Lansing.

Gilbert joined the volunteer Union army in October 1862, being appointed colonel of the 27th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He served as a Union general during the American Civil War, being honored with distinction in the Western theaters of the war as a regimental and brigade commander.

In June of 1864 Gilbert assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Division, XVI Corps and led it at the battle of Tupelo. December of 1864 Gilbert was transferred to command of the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Division in A.J. Smith’s detachment of the Army of Tennessee at the battle of Nashville. There, Gilbert’s brigade took part in the Union assault on Shy’s Hill the second day of the battle. February 9, 1865 Gilbert was promoted to brigadier general of U.S. volunteers and transferred to the Army of West Mississippi outside of Mobile, AL, where he took part in the battle of Fort Blakely. For his service in the Mobile campaign he was brevetted to Major General of U.S. volunteers.

After the war, Gilbert returned to Iowa and continued his career as a lumberman. For a time he went to Colorado as a miner, then moved to Kansas to become president of the Topeka Coal Economizing Company. General Gilbert died February 9, 1884 in Topeka, KS.

Hugh Pratt Kidder was born in Waukon December 13, 1897. During WWI, he was serving in France with the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division. October 3, 1918, he was killed in action by an artillery shell at the age of 21 during the Meuse-Argonne Campaign, described as “the bloodiest battle of WWI”.
First Lieutenant Kidder had previously been awarded the Croix de Guerre, a significant French military decoration awarded for gallant action in war. The day before he died, under very heavy fire, he led a small patrol into enemy trenches and captured two strong machine gun positions. When he was killed the next day, he was attempting to get his men into a better combat position in the face of heavy machine gun and artillery fire.

He is buried in Meuse-Argonne cemetery in Romagne, France. After he was killed, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism. In honor of the young lieutenant’s heroic actions, the United States Navy launched a new Destroyer vessel, the USS Kidder, DD-319, July 10, 1919.

Arthur Frederick Brandt was born October 17, 1892 in O’Brien County in western Iowa. At the age of seven, Arthur moved with his parents to Postville and grew up there, becoming a carpenter before enlisting in Company E of the Iowa National Guard based in Charles City shortly before the United States entered World War I.
Brandt served in the 168th Infantry as part of the 42nd Division, one of the first American units to arrive in France as WWI unfolded. During WWI, The Division took part in six major campaigns, being in direct combat with the enemy for 174 days.

October 17, 1918, in the middle of the Meuse-Argonne battle, and the day of his 26th birthday, Arthur F. Brandt was killed in action in France. The Postville newspaper wrote that “Private Brandt was the first Postville young man to offer his services to his country and for that reason we all, of one accord, took an especial interest in him”.
A few months after notification of the death of their son, Brandt’s mother and father received another letter from the War Department advising them that their son had been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his “extraordinary heroism in action.” That letter was also printed in the local newspaper and read, in part:

“After his company had been in action three days during the attack on the Cote de Chatillon, and was to be relieved, Corporal Brandt volunteered to guide the company to a position of security in the rear which he had selected. While the relief was being made under shellfire, this soldier and four others were severely wounded by a bursting shell. Realizing that his wound would prove fatal, he, while being carried on a stretcher, indicated the route to be taken by the company, being wounded in the face and scarcely able to talk. Through his extraordinary fortitude and will power the company was able to reach its position over difficult terrain in and under enemy fire. He died of his wounds the next day.”

Brandt’s name was included on a list of “One Hundred Individual Acts of Extraordinary Heroism” performed by officers and soldiers of the American Expeditionary Forces. General John J. “Blackjack” Pershing was the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in World War I and submitted that list to the U.S. Secretary of War.

Arthur Frederick Brandt is buried in Meuse-Argonne cemetery in France. The Postville American Legion Post is named in his honor.

James Bryson Hagen was born August 1, 1923, a little over four years after his father, Glenn Hagen, returned to Allamakee County from being a WWI Prisoner of War in Germany. After graduating from Waterville High School in May 1942, Hagen entered the Lincoln Aeronautical Institute in Lincoln, NE to follow a lifelong dream of being a pilot.

He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in November 1942 and was called to active duty in February 1943. April 14, 1944, Hagen received the silver wings of an Army Air Corps pilot and was then assigned as a B-25 Bomber instructor at Merced, CA before being transferred to Stead Air Base in Reno, NV for training on the C-46 Curtis Commando aircraft and eventually being assigned to duty with the Second Ferrying Group at New Castle Air Base, Wilmington, DE.

Hagen departed for overseas service July 4, 1944, flying the C-46 to eventually end up in India, where he was assigned to the 14th Air Force in the China Burma India (CBI) Theater of Operations during World War II. He served in the Air Transport Command as a C-46 pilot flying supplies over the Himalayan Mountains to U.S. forces based in China.

Hagen and his aircraft were reported missing in action September 22, 1944 after experiencing turbulent weather conditions in the vicinity of Chabera, India. An extensive search was made but no trace of the missing aircraft was ever found.James Bryson Hagen was officially listed as “Killed in Action” September 23, 1945.

Hagen was awarded the Air Medal posthumously “for meritorious achievement as a pilot from July 22 to September 22, for participating in more than 150 hours flight over the dangerous Assam-China air routes. Flying at night as well as by day, at high altitudes, over impassable mountainous terrain, characterized by extreme treacherous weather, necessitating long periods of flying by instrument, requiring courageous and superior performance of his duties which was accomplished with distinction.”

Roy Martin Vickery was born August 25, 1924 in Post Township in Allamakee County about five miles northeast of Postville. After finishing eighth grade and becoming a full-time laborer on the family farm, he entered the U.S. Army in 1944 and left for overseas duty in May 1945, returning home in 1946.

In July 1949, Vickery enlisted in the Army Combat Engineers and became part of the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion attached to the 2nd Army Infantry Division. When the North Koreans invaded the South June 25, 1950, the 2nd Engineers deployed to Korea with the 2nd Infantry Division. In late 1950 the unit was only 50 miles from Yalu River and China, and it was at this point the Chinese entered the fighting against the 2nd Division, forcing evacuation of the 2nd Division troops from Kunu-ri.

As the 2nd Engineers prepared to evacuate, Chinese troops overran their position, and Corporal Roy Vickery was taken prisoner December 1, 1950. His parents were later notified that, based on reports of released prisoners, their son had died in a prison camp February 20, 1951. No remains have ever been identified or returned.
In 2017, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification and return of the remains of two members of the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion who were also involved in the fighting at Kunu-ri. Neither of those victims were identified as Vickery. He is listed on the Korean War Project Remembrance website at and is among 140 Iowans who are still listed as “Missing in Action” (MIA).

For more information about the Allamakee County Freedom Rock and its ongoing fundraising efforts, call 563-568-2624. For more information about the Freedom Rock project, visit the project’s website at or

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