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Ottumwa Stories: Follow The Freedom Trail

Published November 8, 2019

The Wapello County Freedom Trail is made up of five memorials to those who have served and continue to serve in the United States Armed Forces. Together, the Civil War Soldier in Ottumwa Cemetery, the Wapello County Soldiers' Monument in Central Park, the All Veterans Memorial in Greater Ottumwa Park, the Freedom Rock in front of Bridge View Center and the Military Room at the Wapello County Historical Museum create a touching and powerful trail through history. Each location has an interpretive panel explaining the significance of its memorial piece.


1. Civil War Soldier Chainsaw Carving

On the edge of Ottumwa Cemetery are a cannon monument and 54 Civil War tombstones. Standing over them is an 11-foot-tall chainsaw carving of a Civil War soldier. Created by Iowa artist Gary Keenan, the massive trunk of a diseased and dying white oak tree was turned into a lasting memorial to those brave soldiers killed in the Civil War.

Two unknown soldiers from the Battle of Shiloh are also buried near the carving. Iowa sent more soldiers per capita to the Civil War than any other state in the Union. Many of the soldiers who lost their lives were left unidentified. Later the unidentified remains were buried as “Unknowns” in existing Iowa cemeteries.


2. Wapello County Soldiers’ Monument

Located in Central Park on Fourth Street, this 25-foot monument was erected in 1919 and dedicated to the Heroic Sons, Soldiers and Sailors of Wapello County. Known locally as the Eagle Monument, a 15-foot shaft is topped by a 3-foot high bronze eagle with an 8-foot wingspan.

World-famous sculpture artist David Edstrom designed the Soldiers’ Monument. On the base are four relief panels: “Going to War,” Battle,” “Death” and “Reconstruction.” The sun rising in the distance illustrates a new era of peace in the world. A bronze plaque on the monument has the names of hundreds of Civil War soldiers from Wapello County.


3. Wapello County Historical Museum

The Wapello County Historical Museum at 210 W. Main St. is home to the Military Room, a testament to those citizens of Ottumwa, Wapello County and the State of Iowa who served their country with honor and courage. Memorabilia there represents the Civil War, Spanish War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. The Tuskegee Airmen, Women’s Land Army, Ottumwa Naval Air Station, the USS Iowa and the Navy Harbor tug, Ottumwa, YTB761 are also represented. All branches of the military are honored in uniform.

Artifacts include unit photographs, photos of local citizens who served, military guns, sabers, a Purple Heart and other medals, campaign ribbons, flags, spurs, drum, bugle and more are showcased in the exhibit.


4. Freedom Rock

The Wapello County Freedom Rock was dedicated on November 11, 2014. The Freedom Rock was painted by Ray “Bubba” Sorenson II, a Greenfield, Iowa, artist, whose desire is to create a Freedom Rock Tour through all 99 counties of Iowa. The 115-ton boulder, which is located in front of Bridge View Center, is dedicated to remembering our veterans and is a thank you to all of our fallen heroes, veterans, military service members and their families for their service and sacrifice.

The front of the Wapello County Freedom Rock shows a soldier clutching a folded American flag next to a Gold Star banner and the words “Never Forget.” The backside features the 833rd Engineer Company, which was based in Ottumwa. Another side honors the two members of the 12 original Iowa Tuskegee Airmen from Wapello County. Also depicted is the Ottumwa Naval Air Station, a flight training facility during World War II.

Also at this site is the Veterans’ Flag Pole. The flag and pole are “in honor of the men and women in Wapello County serving in the Armed Forces of the United States.”


5. All Veterans Memorial

What began as a simple flag and pole to honor those who served in Desert Shield/Storm is now an All Veterans Memorial in Greater Ottumwa Park, dedicated to all who have served in the Armed Forces. The stone tribute features granite slabs, red mosaic stone and steel circles representing each branch of the United States military.

Also in the memorial are a large cannon from the Spanish-American War, a U.S. Navy anti-aircraft gun, a flowering tree and three flagpoles. Additional pieces have been added to the original monument, including two POW/MIA memorial benches, cement statues carrying military gear, two commemorative panels and a tall pole with an outstretched eagle.

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