Benton County Legion Chaplain Doug Anderson offers the dedication ceremony benediction while Shellsburg American Legion riders line the area around the Benton Co. Freedom Rock.

VSHS choir members sing The National Anthem during the Benton Co. Freedom Rock dedication.

Area veterans officially dedicated the Benton County Freedom Rock on Saturday, with the help of local residents, and two families for whom the rock holds special meaning.

Gathered in the Shellsburg Legion Hall, the participants heard the history of the local project, and words of thanks for those who did the most to make it possible.

Shellsburg Post 166 Commander James Sanders gave the American Legion Riders Chapter 166 members credit for their work.

“The Legion didn’t have to lift a finder,” said Sanders. “The American Legion Riders did it all. They raised the money. They found the rock. They got it down here on a semi and put it in place with a crane. You can’t thank these guys enough.”

Design Homes of rural Urbana donated the giant stone.

The ALR members occasionally travel the state, visiting many of the 65 or so Freedom Rock sites. Sorensen continues to work with community leaders and veterans groups througout Iowa, seeking to set up a Freedom Rock in each of the state’s 99 counties.

“We’ve always tried to stress that this is the Benton County Freedom Rock, said Kaye Bonesteel, the ALR Chapter 166 president.

She went on to explain that organizers sought suggestions for honoring veterans throughout Benton County. Bubba Sorensen II, the artist, also did some research, Bonesteel said, adding that it was Sorensen who discovered the story of Navy camouflage expert Everett Warner.

The other face on the Benton County Freedom Rock is that of Calvin Pearl Titus, who earned his Medal of Honor in a war few people remember with American connections — the Boxer Rebellion.

Among the speakers was Shellsburg Mayor Dan Roehr and the leaders of the American Legion in Iowa, Auxiliary President Vickie Klinkhammer and Department Commander Micheal Etzel and Sons of the American Legion Detachment of Iowa Commander Gary Bonesteel.

“Pride sums it up,” said Etzel. “They did a heck of a job.”

The family of World War II B-17 tail gunner Mark Reynolds was present, including a nephew who was named after Mark. Reynolds was 21 when his plane was shot down over Germany on March 24, 1945, just six weeks before V-E Day. A few of Reynold’s nieces and nephews, and other relatives, sat on the front row during the ceremony and then posed for photos at the conclusion of the dedication.

Also helping were a group of Scouts from Benton County, and a few members of the Vinton-Shellsburg High School choir. A group of Patriot Guard members, along with American Legion members from througout the coaunty, also participated, lining the sidewalk in front of the Legion Hall before the standing, and also standing in honor during the outdoor part of the program.

The family from whose farm the Freedom Rock came was also present for the celebration.

The rock came from what was once the farm of Lawrence and Phyllis Hess, west of Urbana. As the rock moved to Shellsburg, some of the descendants of the Hess family shared memories, including of the day that Lawrence attempted to remove that rock by blowing it up with dynamite. See more about the rock the Hess family descendants HERE.

Benton County is home to three Medal of Honor recipients

According to the Medal of Honor Society, there are a total of 3,515 Medal of Honor recipients in the U.S., which has 3,144 counties. Benton County, however has more than its fair share of Medal of Honor recipients: Three.

Along with Calvin Pearl Titus, Benton County can boast of 1st Lt. James M. Elson, who was buried in Shellsburg after his death in 1864. He was wounded twice in the Civil War, once while carrying his company’s flag.

The other Medal of Honor recipient with Benton County connections is Coxswain John Hayes, a Blairstown native and Civil War veteran who was honored for manning a gun on the USS Kearsage, helping to sink the feared and legendary Confederate raider known as Alabama.

See photos of Saturday’s dedication HERE.

See more photos of the Benton Co. Freedom Rock HERE.

See the Freedom Rock Tour page HERE.

Learn more about the three faces of the Benton County Freedom Rock by clicking the links below:

Calvin Pearl Titus

Mark R. Reynolds

Everett Warner