Howard County Freedom Rock


222 2nd Ave SW, Cresco, IA 52136





The Story of our Freedom Rock

Infantry Flag
All Freedom Rocks have an American Flag painted on them. After that, the artist decides what will go on the Rock.
The front of our rock has the 38th Regiment Iowa Volunteer Infantry flag. During the Civil War the women of Howard County sewed the Infantry flag for the men going off to war to carry. At some point, the flag was lost. When they were on their way home they found the flag and brought it with them. This flag, displayed in our local Historic Museum, is said to be the best intact, hand-sewn Infantry flag from the Civil War.

The 5 Admirals
Five little boys who grew up in Cresco became Admirals; Vice Admiral Frank L. Lowry, Rear Admiral Arthur T. Moen, Rear Admiral George Peckham, Rear Admiral Michael J. Malanaphy, and Rear Admiral Wallis F. Peterson. In the military world, this is almost unheard of for such a small community.

Ellen Church
A little girl, born and raised in Cresco, grew up to start a global industry!
Ellen Church is the world’s First Stewardess.
As a registered nurse from Iowa who was captivated by flying, Ellen Church became a skilled pilot. When Church approached Steve Stimpson of Boeing Air Transport, parent company of United Airlines, it was for the position of pilot. Although Stimpson wouldn’t hire Church as a pilot, he did see promise in another of Church’s ideas. She suggested placing nurses onboard planes in order to combat the public’s fear of flying in these new “passenger planes”.

The requirements were strict: In addition to being registered nurses, the women had to be single, younger than 25 years old, weigh less than 115 pounds and stand less than 5 feet, 4 inches tall. Calling themselves “Sky Girls” and “Air Hostesses”, that successful project rolled into the popular Stewardess and now today’s Flight Attendant.

Ellen Church was not just a Stewardess. She was a humanitarian, war heroine, aviation pioneer and dedicated her indomitable spirit to the service of mankind. Cresco’s airport is named after Ellen Church and many personal items are on display in our Historical Museum.

Edouard V.M. Izac
Edouard Victor Michael Izac, a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy was born in Cresco.
Captured and held prisoner on the German submarine U-90 after sinking the U.S.S. President Lincoln with three torpedoes, Izac was taken to a prison camp in Germany. Determined to escape after learning crucial information on the movements of German submarines, he jumped through a window of a moving train amidst gunfire from German soldiers. After being recaptured, Lt. Izac successfully escape a second time through barb-wired fences deliberately drawing fire to permit others to escape during the confusion. Making his way through the mountains of southwestern Germany with only raw vegetables to eat, he swam the River Rhine during the night in the immediate vicinity of German sentries. At the time of Izac’s death he was the last living Medal of Honor recipient from World War I.

Two Small Ships
The two ships painted on the Rock represent our Navy veterans during Pearl Harbor.

USS Medusa (AR-1) was the United States Navy’s first purpose-built repair ship. She served in the U.S. Navy from 1924 to 1946.
Cresco legend, Bud Billmyer, was stationed on the USS Medusa. The night before Pearl Harbor, the USS Medusa was in the wrong berth due to another ship taking their spot. No worries – they would slip into their designated spot the next day. That night Bud was stationed on deck when fighting broke out. He was issued two ammunition belts (bandoliers) and a machine gun. After a time, Bud decided he better try it out – he had never shot a gun let alone a machine gun. He said he felt like Pancho Villa. He never shot another gun for the rest of his life. Bud witness a Japanese plane shot down and the pilot rescued. He wondered if this was the first POW of the war. The next day Bud was shipped out to sea. Six weeks later his parents received a postcard that read “He’s alive”. It was their only communication that Bud had survived Pearl Harbor. For three years Bud was at sea, never docking port to call home. When he finally made it to shore, he called his girlfriend and asked her to marry him (she said yes). His second call was to his parents. For 70 years Bud and Mary Ann Billmyer were married until he passed away in 2014 at the age of 94 years old.

USS Hornet (CV-8), the seventh U.S. Navy vessel of that name, was a Yorktown-class aircraft carrier of the United States Navy. The USS Hornet represents 13 soldiers from Elma, Iowa who perished in WWII, seven of whom were stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time of the attack, three of whom died there.

US Navy Apprentice 1st Class John M. Mulick from Elma, Iowa was identified and returned home in 2021; 80 years after he was killed in Pearl Harbor. Mulick served aboard the USS Oklahoma for more than a year, conducting patrols and participated in various exercises. The Oklahoma was capsized due to multiple torpedo strikes on December 7th, 1941.

The official death toll at Pearl Harbor was 2,403, according to USA TODAY reports, including 2,008 Navy personnel, 109 Marines, 218 Army service members and 68 civilians. Of the dead, 1,177 were from the USS Arizona, the wreckage of which now serves as the main memorial to the attack that ushered America into World War II. Fifty-five Japanese also were killed. The total number of wounded was 1,143, including 710 Navy personnel, 69 Marines, 364 Army personnel and 103 civilians, according to the Pearl Harbor Visitors Bureau.

The only gazebo covered Freedom Rock (#68) in Iowa is located along Highway 9 in Cresco, Iowa.
The original Freedom Rock, established in 1999, is a large, 60+ ton boulder located in rural Iowa that is repainted every year with a different Thank You for our nations Veterans to honor their service to our country. The artist, Ray “Bubba” Sorensen II, was inspired by the movie Saving Private Ryan, as well as wanting to give Veterans a unique recognition on Memorial Day.

Area veterans were enthusiastic about bringing a Freedom Rock to Howard County. Once they made their application, Bubba put Howard County on the Freedom Rock Tour, slated for October 2017, and the real work began.

Veterans from around the county joined the Freedom Rock committee and the strategizing began. First on the list was to find a site. They looked at every town, the corner of Hwy 9 and 63, and scrutinized the DOT traffic numbers to find the best spot. After careful review, the veterans reached out to the Cresco City Council about the current site and a partnership began. Next on the agenda, veterans kept their eyes open for the perfect rock. Ray Bina came forward and said he had a rock and with the help of Mehmert Tiling, the Howard County Freedom Rock was found!

As expected of good military personnel, structured meetings commenced. Working with general contractor, Chris Reicks of Reicks Landscapes, the Park was designed and the campaign began. CUSB Bank and Cresco Bank & Trust were the first to donate and the veterans were thrilled. With county-wide, community support the Howard County Freedom Rock Park became a reality.

October approached and the veterans were busy getting the site ready for Bubba to paint the rock. Working with Howard County Business & Tourism, Bubba came to Cresco with his design in place. Painting of the rock was completed on October 31, 2017-just in time for Bubba to return home and go Trick-or-Treating with his children. On November 11, 2017 the completed Freedom Rock was unveiled in a misty rain with hundreds of attendees. The official dedication of the Howard County Freedom Rock Memorial Park was June 23, 2018 at 4:00pm. Special guests, the Oak Ridge Boys, surprised attendees by singing the National Anthem.

In addition to the Freedom Rock, the beautiful Howard County Freedom Rock  Memorial Park features a lovely fountain and several granite benches for sitting and contemplation. Nine granite blocks line a paved walkway that offers information about each war starting with the War of 1812 (because we have three residents buried in Howard County who fought in the War of 1812). Each granite block provides a brief synopsis of the war or conflict  as well as inventions and innovations on both the military and home fronts to give the time period a deeper historical context.